More than 2.2 million Pennsylvanians are eligible for Medicaid, the federally mandated, state-managed program that provides health care for people and families who can't afford care otherwise.
It is the highest number on record, representing nearly 18 percent of the population -- more than one in six Pennsylvanians -- and underscoring the worrisome economic climate and continued difficulty many people have finding jobs and employer-provided insurance.
But the swelling Medicaid roster is not just a sign of the economic times. It's also reflective of growing dependence on state-sponsored health care and safety nets, as well as the increasing cost of health care and long-term care -- trends showing few signs of immediate abatement.
As a result, the state's Department of Public Welfare budget, and the need to trim it, have been regular sources of political strife for Gov. Ed Rendell and the state Legislature. The same will remain true for future governors and lawmakers.