State delays changes to medical transportation

A plan designed to change the way the state runs its non emergency Medical Assistance Transportation Programs will undergo further review before being signed into law as a result of actions by local legislators, county officials and program administrators.

In April, Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20), joined by Rep. Jonathan Fritz (R-111), and several other legislators, called for an additional review of the Health and Human Services plan after county officials and program administrators complained that the new plan might end up costing more money than it was designed to save.

“There were serious flaws in what was about to take place,” Baker said in a prepared statement released last week. “It may or may not work in the cities, but in smaller communities and rural areas it definitely has the possibility of driving up costs and hindering services to those relying on the system, such as people with serious medical conditions. Our seniors will be relieved this problem has been pushed off before they suffer any unintended consequences.”

The bill signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf last summer required the state Department of Human Services to transfer control of its non-emergency medical transportation systems from local offices to statewide or regional centers called brokers.  According to legislative notes attached to the new law by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the change was expected to save the state $15 million.

Baker, Fritz and the other legislators announced at an April press conference that they had asked the Joint State Government Commission to study whether the plans to transfer program management would best serve patients.  The change, they feared, could affect the handling of the scheduling and dispatching of the familiar white SWTC buses here in Susquehanna County, county officials and local program administrators charged.   Medical Assistance qualified riders depend heavily on those SWCT buses to make critical medical appointments, such as dialysis.

Baker’s district spans five counties, including parts of Susquehanna and Wyoming counties, and some of her constituents are forced to travel for hours to make vital medical appointments, she said.

“There is always concern when control is taken from local providers and given to a third party,” Baker’s colleague Fritz said in remarks contained in Baker’s press release. “The result, all too often, is a reduction in care and quality of service, as well as the ability to efficiently cater to the needs of the consumer. I was happy to work with Senator Baker in order to prevent implementation of a plan that could cause harm to our region’s residents.”

Fritz sponsored in the House legislation mirroring that filed by Baker in the Senate  seeking a delay and review of the changes.  Several other legislators from as diverse places such as Beaver and Juniata, Fayette and Lawrence counties also joined in support.

Rep. Tina Pickett (R-110) also voiced support for 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 March 5.

The proposed legislation would, among other things, require the Joint State Government Commission to focus on “minimizing disruption or reduction of non-emergency transportation services, maximizing the coordination of non-emergency 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, with a preliminary analysis due in 90 days to provide time to advance any needed legislative remedies.

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