Sen. Lisa Baker has joined Rep. Jonathan Fritz and over 50 of their House and Senate colleagues in calling for a study to determine how counties could be affected by planned changes in the way state funded non-emergency medical transportation services are run.
Baker, Fritz and the other legislators want the Joint State Government Commission to study whether switching management and control of county run Medical Assistance Transportation Programs over to private companies known as regional brokers would best serve patients.
The change could affect the handling of the scheduling and dispatching the familiar white SWTC buses here in Susquehanna County. Medical Assistance qualified riders depend heavily on those SWCT buses to make critical medical appointments such as dialysis.
On Tuesday (April 9), Fritz (R-Susquehanna/Wayne) announced his sponsorship of House Bill 986, which calls for a study of the “positive and negative impacts to each county.” Fritz was joined at a Tuesday morning press conference in Harrisburg by Reps. Aaron Bernstine (R-Beaver/Butler/Lawrence), and Pam Snyder (D- Fayette/Greene/Washington) as well as several others.
Baker, who has submitted companion legislation in the State Senate known as Senate Bill 390, also joins Rep. Tina Pickett in supporting the bill, co-sponsored by Juniata County area Republican Rep. Johnathan D. Hershey. The House bill was referred to the House Health Committee April 2. The Senate bill was referred to the Health and Human Services committee on March 5. If passed, the bill would take effect immediately.
“And while the shift will help some counties improve their delivery, the response and the response today from all of you suggests that a ‘one size fits all’ might not serve or be in the best approach of the Commonwealth,” Baker said.
Baker’s district spans five counties including parts of Susquehanna and Wyoming and some of her constituents are forced to travel for hours to make vital medical appointments, she said.
“This legislation doesn’t stop implementation of the program, it simply delays it until we can consider the impacts on our communities and see how it affects our most vulnerable population,” said Hershey, the Juniata County legislator.
The Department of Human Services, which administers the MATP on the state level, also says that if it changes the way the state asks the federal government for reimbursements it will save the state $15 million. But critics say that the changes could end up costing the counties even more.
“If the governor and his team want to talk about significant savings, I’m happy to have a conversation. The difference is he may not be real interested in what some of those significant savings are,” said Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Lawrence, Beaver and Butler).
“No doubt about it: We need to be looking to pinch every penny here in Pennsylvania, but we need to be doing it in a way that is respectful of people; we need to be doing it in a way that ensures that people are treated with respect and dignity,” Bernstine said.
Legislators filed the bills following complaints voiced by several county officials and program directors raised as a result of an amendment to the way the state asks the federal government for transportation reimbursements signed by Gov. Wolf last summer.
House Bill 986 would establish a one-year deadline before which the completed study would be delivered to the secretary, the chairperson of the Health and Human Services Committee of the Senate and the chairperson of the Human Services Committee of the House of Representatives.
“The study shall approximate the potential costs or savings such action could have for the various counties and the Commonwealth,” the bill reads.
If passed into law, the bill would also require the Joint State Government Commission to focus on “minimizing disruption or reduction of nonemergency transportation services, maximizing the coordination of nonemergency transportation services provided by different programs” as well as examine whether counties should have a right to opt-out of the full-risk brokerage model. The bill sets a deadline of one year for the study’s completion.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed the amendment into law last summer as a way of saving taxpayers more than $15 million, but critics argued that the amendment could end up costing twice that much.
The Department of Human Services says that by making the bureaucratic change in submitting the reimbursements as services instead of administrative costs, it can reduce its share of the cost from 50% to 36%, and, according to legislative notes attached to the new law by the Senate Appropriations Committee, result in the $15 million savings.