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Upon return to session this fall, Representatives Thomas Mehaffie and Thomas Murt intend to introduce legislation to create a professional licensure for behavior analysts. The goal is to have Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) recognized as an independent profession in Pennsylvania.

The Better Access to Treatment (BAT) Act proposes to promote an increase in behavior analysts working in Pennsylvania. In addition, it proposes to improve access to treatment for people struggling with substance use disorders and chronic mental illness, among other health issues. The act will set a minimum training and experience standard for licensed professionals within the ABA field. It also proposes a Behavior Analyst Oversight Board to protect the public and consumers, administer disciplinary action, and license new professionals.

The proposed legislation is endorsed and supported by the ABA in PA Initiative, a 501(c)(3) non-profit advocacy organization made up of parents, industry professionals, and lawmakers dedicated to ensuring access to ABA. RCPA is a member of ABA in PA and is committed to informing our members about the new legislation. More information can be found on the Frequently Asked Questions document and the Talking Points document.

Questions? Please contact Jack Phillips or Robena Spangler.

RCPA has been collaborating with the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania (HAP) and other statewide health care associations on Senate Bill 780 (SB 780). SB 780 establishes the Telemedicine Act, which will authorize health care providers to use telemedicine and require insurers to provide coverage and reimbursement for its use (a detailed summary of the bill can be found here).

Currently, SB 780 is in jeopardy. The bill, which was unanimously approved by two Senate committees, the full Senate, and the House Professional Licensure Committee, could die before a House vote is taken. The Insurance Federation is strongly advocating against the bill with rank and file members and leadership. They assert the bill provides opportunities for fraud and lower quality of care.

Between today and the weekend, it is imperative that supporters of this bill contact their House members directly and ask them to “Tell House Speaker Mike Turzai to bring the bill up for a vote in the House without amendment on Monday, October 1.” This is our final opportunity to secure passage of a bill that will expand access to health care for all Pennsylvanians by requiring insurers to pay for telemedicine services if they pay for the same service in person.

If the bill is not voted in the House, we will have to introduce a new bill during 2019, the beginning of a new legislative session, ending nearly two years of advocacy on this critical issue.

Again, between today and the weekend, it is imperative that supporters of the bill contact House members directly and ask them to “Tell House Speaker Mike Turzai to bring the bill up for a vote without amendment in the House on Monday, October 1.”

Here are the top talking points to support the main message:

  • We want consistency in payment from insurers (We are not directing how to negotiate rates);
  • 38 states have some type of law requiring this coverage;
  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has said more must be done to expand payment for telemedicine services and lessen restriction for patient access;
  • The bill will ensure greater access for primary and specialty care;
  • Fewer people will have to travel if they are isolated, older, or without transportation (especially in rural and urban areas);
  • It will expand the reach of care to people with opioid use disorder and behavioral health needs;
  • It will help providers manage patients’ chronic conditions and avoid hospital admissions or readmissions;
  • It will help schools address physical and behavioral health issues; and
  • Help caregivers of elderly or seriously ill patients.

There are already protections in place to ensure appropriate care is provided through telemedicine. Providers are governed by state licensing boards, follow a medical code of ethics, and there are strong insurance fraud laws in place to protect against such behavior.

Questions, contact RCPA Director of Government Affairs Jack Phillips.

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Upon RCPA’s request, Governor Wolf signed the proclamation announcing September 9–15, 2018 as “Direct Support Professionals Recognition Week,” to recognize and express appreciation to the DSPs throughout the Commonwealth. See the proclamation here.

Nancy Thaler, Deputy Secretary of the Office of Developmental Programs (ODP), has announced her retirement effective August 31, 2018. Secretary Thaler has served as the Deputy Secretary since June 2015. Previously, Thaler was Executive Director of the National Association of State Directors of Developmental Disabilities Services. She also previously served as the Director of Quality Improvement for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Deputy Thaler served the Commonwealth in the Department of Public Welfare (now DHS) from 1986 to 2003, first as Director of the Bureau of Community Programs, then as Deputy Secretary for the Office of Developmental Programs. During her tenure as Deputy Secretary, she advanced the philosophy of “Everyday Lives,” confirming the right of people with disabilities to live an everyday life; a life that is no different from that of all other citizens. Secretary Thaler has always demonstrated the utmost respect for people with disabilities, promoted full inclusion in the community, and has been referred to as a “champion for individuals with disabilities in Pennsylvania.”

Kristin Ahrens, Director, Bureau of Policy and Quality Management will serve in the role of Acting Deputy Secretary upon Secretary Thaler’s retirement. Ahrens has served in her current position since July of 2016. She has been instrumental in developing the ODP waivers and has been responsible for policy development, training, quality, and communications for the past two years. Prior to her appointment at ODP she served as the Policy Director at Temple University, where she was responsible for directing all policy-related activities for the institute, including policy analysis; training and technical assistance to staff, community groups, and policymakers; and creating and/or disseminating briefs on local, state, and federal policy issues that affect people with disabilities and families. Ahrens also provided consultation to ODP on fiscal policy and the HCBS settings rule, served on the Adult Protective Services Coalition, Disability Budget Coalition, DHS Regulatory Revision Work Group, and Association for University Centers Legislative Affairs Committee. She also has experience in Person-Driven Services, including her work at Self Determination Resources (SDRI) for six years, where she was instrumental in the growth of SDRI from a pilot project to a fully operational model brokerage which was replicated statewide. In addition, Ms. Ahrens served as a consultant on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Transformation Transfer Initiative for building sustainable self-directed services in PA’s mental health system.

We wish Deputy Secretary Thaler well in her retirement and look forward to continuing collaborative work with Kristin Ahrens in her new role at the Office of Developmental Programs.

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Harrisburg, PA – Building on his commitment to create Jobs That Pay as Pennsylvania’s economy continues to expand, Governor Tom Wolf today signed an executive order that increases pay for employees under the governor’s jurisdiction to no less than $12 an hour on July 1, 2018 and raises the wage by 50 cents a year until reaching at least $15 per hour in 2024.

“Pennsylvania must be a place where hard work is rewarded, but today too many people cannot afford the basics,” said Governor Wolf. “This executive order increases the wage floor for state workers and state contractors, but the General Assembly has not given all minimum wage workers a raise in nearly a decade. More than half of the states have a higher minimum wage, including all of our surrounding states, leaving many Pennsylvanians behind. Raising the wage puts more money in their pockets which generates business for our economy and makes the commonwealth stronger. Hardworking men and women should not have to wait any longer. It’s time for the General Assembly to join me and raise the wage.”

Workers in Pennsylvania earning the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour have only 26 percent of the purchasing power they did in 1979. A family of two working full-time and earning minimum wage falls below the poverty line. Increasing the minimum wage is a win-win for workers and the economy. Boosting wages provides workers with more income to purchase items they most need, which generates business for the local economy and reduces costs for state services.

The governor’s executive order also covers employees of state contractors, those that lease property to the commonwealth, and employees that perform direct services to the commonwealth or spend at least 20 percent of their working time on ancillary services related to the contract or lease. After reaching $15 an hour in 2024, the minimum wage rate would increase by an annual cost-of-living adjustment using the percentage change in the consumer price index for all urban consumers for Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland.

The current wage floor for employees is $10.20 an hour under an executive order signed by the governor in March 2016.

Questions, contact RCPA Director of Government Affairs Jack Phillips.