Saturday, July 22, 2017
State

For Immediate Release

Delilah Rumburg, Chief Executive Officer of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, announced that she will retire after 23 years at the helm of the longest-standing anti-sexual assault coalition in the country.

RCPA, along with three other statewide associations, have joined together by drafting a letter to State Senators urging them to oppose House Bill 59 (HB 59). HB 59 negatively impacts Medicaid eligibility and benefits for consumers, specifically limiting the ability of health and human service providers to offer services to the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable population. Consumers and health and human service providers are concerned that HB 59 is on a fast track to passage.

The bill’s language to limit eligibility and access to Medicaid benefits was inserted during budget negotiations without public debate or hearings. After the bill was amended and voted out of committee, it was sent directly to the House in its entirety for an up or down vote. Ultimately, HB 59 passed the House largely along party lines without any votes from Democrats, and fifteen (15) Republicans voted against it. From a good governance perspective this is simply astounding. On process alone, HB 59 should be rejected; therefore, we urge RCPA members to contact their State Senators and ask them to oppose HB 59.

Questions, contact Jack Phillips.

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By Carley Mossbrook
Staff Writer
Capitolwire

HARRISBURG (July 11) – A passionate debate of a Human Services code bill on Tuesday saw a bipartisan effort to oppose Republican-crafted provisions that would potentially impose work requirements on certain medical assistance recipients and charge some families with disabled children Medicaid premiums.

“I rise in opposition to House Bill 59, which will throw a wrench into the operations of public healthcare in this state and fundamentally threaten care for hundreds of thousands of people across the Commonwealth,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny.

Others called the bill “offensive,” “harmful” and “cruel.”

But despite concerns from both sides of the aisle, the House of Representatives narrowly approved the bill with a vote of 102-91. No Democrats supported the legislation.

It will now move to the Senate for concurrence.

House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, said the provisions put into the bill on Monday evening were “98-percent agreed” to by the Senate.

However, it’s unclear if the bill, if approved by the Senate in the coming days (or weeks,) would be signed into law by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, who has concerns about the Medicaid changes included in the code bill.

The chamber also debated public school and administrative code bills, but delayed a vote on them until the Senate acts on other code bills, including a Fiscal Code bill, said Reed.

It’s unclear if a Tax Code bill will be in the mix.

The House recessed Tuesday evening and plan to return in a week, said Steve Miskin, spokesman for Reed.

HB59 House floor comments

Opponents of the bill mostly focused on the provisions that would potentially establish a premium on disabled children and their families who receive Medical Assistance and have an annual income that exceeds 1000 percent of the federal poverty level.

“I don’t think many of us truly realize just how damaging this legislation can be to families who find themselves in huge financial jeopardy to no fault of their own,” said Rep. Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, who said the changes would raise premiums for 61,000 families in the state.

“The vast majority of families who would be affected by this bill face real and significant financial pain. In many cases, their budgets are already stretched well beyond the breaking point,” he continued.

Based on the federal poverty level, only families with an annual income of more than $246,000 would be required to pay the premium, which the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Dan Moul, said would total $50 monthly.

Moul said Pennsylvania is the only state in the country that doesn’t factor in a family’s income when determining eligibility for Medicaid.

He and others said the expected premium cost is reasonable for those families and will preserve human services funding for those making less.

Rep. Kristen Phillips-Hill, R-York added: “This measure will help ensure that we protect this benefit for the most-needy and the most-vulnerable residents of Pennsylvania.”

Opponents also took issue with a provision that could potentially establish employment requirements for certain Medicaid recipients.

“We have to be very, very careful with this population. They’re our most vulnerable,” said Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, of recipients who are mostly disabled children, severely disabled adults, chronically ill persons and those in nursing homes.

“I don’t see what people in that population are able to work. We’re going to put another level of bureaucracy and paperwork on top of what they’re already going through,” he added.

Numerous disability rights and community provider groups oppose the proposed requirements, he said.

Supporters say the provision would only impact able-bodied Medicaid recipients.

“No change is going to occur to the people who are excluded currently. The intent of this welfare reform is to break the generational recurrence of dependence,” said Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Westmoreland. “It’s to be able to create an opportunity where a person either has to work 20 hours a week or they have to take a class or they have to volunteer.”

“It is incumbent upon this body to help those who can’t help themselves and also we share a responsibility to help those who can help themselves realize they can do so,” Nelson added. “Requiring an individual to have to volunteer their time is not a big ask. Encouraging someone to work 20 hours a week is also not a big ask.”

The Human Service code bill doesn’t inherently establish the Medicaid premium or work requirement provisions, it would simply instruct the state’s Department of Human Services to seek waivers from the federal government to do so.

Ultimately, GOP lawmakers said the changes made in the code bill are needed as human services costs continue to rise and state revenues remain stagnant.

“I keep hearing about the devastating impact to our most vulnerable, but the Human Services budget is growing at a rate of 6 (percent) to 7 percent a year while our revenues are only growing at an average rate of 3 percent,” said Rep. Dawn Keefer, R-Cumberland. “What about the devastation our Commonwealth and the most vulnerable will experience when our Commonwealth is bankrupt.”

Reed said Monday the provisions within the Human Service Code would “provide a couple hundred million dollars in savings, depending on the waivers that are submitted to the federal government and what the federal government tends to approve.”

He explained many of the changes “are a re-enactment of welfare reforms that were actually put into place during the [Bill] Clinton administration [at the federal level] and the [Tom] Ridge administration [at the state level] that fell by the wayside during the [Ed] Rendell administration.”

“With our entitlement spending being one of the major cost drivers in the state right now, until we’re able to bring that under control, we’re going to continue to have billion-dollar deficits year after year,” Reed continued. “This is a movement to continue to try to address that issue in the long-term as well as the short-term.”

He reiterated similar statements Tuesday following the chamber’s floor vote.

The gubernatorial response to HB59

Wolf hasn’t indicated whether he would sign or veto the legislation, however, J.J. Abbott, his press secretary, offered a scathing statement from the governor in an email Tuesday.

“Governor Wolf strongly opposes these backdoor changes that could have widespread and potentially life-changing effects on the health and well-being of millions of Pennsylvanians. Seniors, people with disabilities and low-income working families don’t need their lives to be made even more difficult by politicians in Harrisburg,” wrote Abbott.

“Beyond the substance of these changes, the process flies in the face of good government and these changes would cost millions of taxpayer dollars just to implement. There was no input from stakeholders or families that would be affected and no formal fiscal analysis,” he added.

“Medicaid is not a handout – it is a lifeline. We need to support these families, not create more hoops for them to jump through,” he concluded.

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Questions, contact Jack Phillips.

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By Robert Swift
Staff Writer
Capitolwire

HARRISBURG (July 11) – Lawmakers came up short Tuesday in their marathon effort to agree on a revenue package and companion legislation to support a nearly $32 billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18.

The House of Representatives and Senate went on six-hour call one day after Gov. Tom Wolf let the General Appropriations bill become law without his signature. The action came after the House approved the Human Services Code bill, House Bill 59, that drew heated floor debate for its potential changes to Medicaid.

The House is not expected to return to Harrisburg for at least a week, said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana.

Since last Thursday, the House and Senate have been in session wrangling over how to find enough revenue to balance the budget bill passed on June 30 and find agreement on the various code bills – Fiscal Code, Public School Code, Administrative Code, and, maybe, a Tax Code – that direct how portions of the appropriated money are to be generated or spent.

The Senate went into recess after scrapping plans to move a fiscal code bill through the Appropriations Committee. It’s uncertain when the Senate intends to return to session.

“The Senate has moved to a six-hour call,” said Senate GOP spokeswoman Jenn Kocher early Tuesday evening. “As negotiations continue, we are hopeful we will return to session soon to finalize the components of the budget.”

Reed said he’s not that optimistic about a really early return date given what he described as lack of interaction with the Wolf administration.

“We don’t think things were astronomically apart, but obviously not enough to close it,” he added, noting, as he has during the last few days, Wolf’s revenue requests kept getting larger, including items for which he said the General Assembly does not have the votes to approve.

The expectation at the day’s start was that the House and Senate would spend the day exchanging various code bills with each other, but that didn’t happen.

“I think most of the code bills were 80, 90 percent agreed to by all parties,” said Reed. “You are always going to have a few differences at the end. If we bring together the entire budget proposal, I assume those differences will work themselves out.”

Wolf strongly opposes making backdoor changes to Medicaid, said spokesman J.J. Abbott.

One sticking point between the House GOP caucus and governor is how much new revenue should be available on a recurring annual basis.

“Look, we’re not even to a point where there’s really a question of how much recurring revenue,” said Reed. “We’re still arguing about what still counts as recurring revenue.” He referred to disagreements over potential gaming revenue in this regard.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, said earlier on Tuesday that all sides continue to work on the code bills and revenue package.

Referring to the revenue package, Browne said, “We are working as aggressively as we can to close – that’s all I can say.”

He said lawmakers are trying to address the governor’s concerns about the human services code bill.

The lack of a specific reconvening date for each chamber fed speculation about when the budget stalemate would be resolved.

“It’s not something we can punt until the fall,” said Bill Patton, spokesman for House Minority Leader Frank Dermody, D-Allegheny.

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Questions, contact Jack Phillips.

Today, the House will vote on HB 59, the Welfare Code bill. In the bill there are many provisions that would have a negative impact on the families that our members serve. RCPA staff has been in contact with House members and have written a letter to legislators explaining why we oppose HB 59.

Once the House votes on the bill today, it will immediately go to the Senate Rules Committee. If the Senate Rules Committee votes it out of committee favorably, HB 59 will go to the Senate floor for a final vote.

RCPA implores providers to contact their legislators and tell them to oppose HB 59. Members can use RCPA’s letter opposing HB59 for talking points. Questions, contact Jack Phillips, RCPA Director of Government Affairs.