Getting Pennsylvania to participate in the federal expansion of Medicaid coverage will provide new funding to tackle the problems of drug and alcohol addiction, which are a root cause of crime, a Lackawanna County judge told a House committee last week.

Michael J. Barrasse spoke before the Human Services Committee about his experiences as a judge and former county district attorney dealing with criminal offenders with addiction problems.

Barrasse predicted the influx of federal aid that will accompany an expansion of the Medicaid program will provide a boost to both criminal justice and human service programs.

"This is the tool we have been waiting for a long period of time," he said.

Treating addiction is important to keeping these offenders from committing crimes again, said Barrasse. He said 80 percent of crimes are related to drug or alcohol addictions, and these types of offenders have a 45 percent recidivism rate, thereby adding to justice system costs.

"We are not addressing the elephant in the room," he said.

The judge appeared with Deb Beck, executive director of the Drug and Alcohol Providers Association of Pennsylvania. Although some 800,000 Pennsylvanians were in need of addiction treatment last year, only about 67,000 were receiving treatment, according to the group.

Expanding Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act would provide health care coverage to hundreds of thousands of low-income Pennsylvanians. The federal government would pay 100 percent of Medicaid expansion during the first three years if a state participates and pay 90 percent of the costs after that.

Medicaid expansion is one of the key issues facing lawmakers as the state budget passage deadline approaches at month's end. Democratic lawmakers have called for including expansion as part of the next budget.

Gov. Tom Corbett has voiced skepticism about the state picking up the 10 percent share. He is negotiating with the Obama administration over such issues as the fate of Pennsylvania's children's health insurance program (CHIP) and a state gross receipts tax on medicaid managed care plans if Pennsylvania opts in.

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-18, Bensalem, the human services committee chairman, introduced a bill last week to allow Pennsylvania to participate yet be able to drop the expansion if the federal reimbursement is not maintained. His bill would enable the state Department of Public Welfare to institute cost-offsetting mechanisms in the fourth year such as premiums, deductibles and co-payments.

(Robert Swift is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications newspapers. E-mail rswift@timesshamrock.com.)