Govt. Affairs

The Biden administration on Friday, July 15, 2022, extended the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) for another three months. US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra officially renewed the declaration, extending it through October 13, 2022. The extensions include the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) standards governing the delivery of services via telehealth.

If you have additional questions, please contact your RCPA Policy Director.

Thank you. Your advocacy made all the difference this year.

Pennsylvania’s 2022/23 General Fund budget is finally in the books, having been enacted one week after the official June 30 deadline. The $45.2 billion spending plan represents a 2.9% increase in state spending over the previous fiscal year. The wide-ranging budget, made possible by higher-than-expected revenues that led to a multibillion-dollar surplus, includes some extra funding for human services providers who assist individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families as well as more money for mental health services.

Despite record surpluses, the administration and lawmakers still negotiated a spending plan that keeps many other broader budget initiatives flat-lined. Although some of our line-item increases were less than requested, and even though direct payments for workforce issues are limited, the funding boosts we did receive will help human service providers that have faced chronic underfunding for years.

This much is clear: none of the modest success we achieved would have been possible without you.

Over the last five months, you helped our coalition deliver 8,296 messages directly to members of the General Assembly and the administration, plus another 706 social media hits tagging representatives and senators. Your engagement was evident from the start, as our social media platforms exploded and continue to grow. All of this is on top of the phone calls you made to legislative offices, the letters you wrote to your local papers, and the events you attended in your community and even at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg.

The people we serve, their families, and their providers of care were seen and heard.

Lawmakers are more informed than ever. They know who we are, and they are coming to understand our issues and appreciate how important they are to our communities. That education process will continue because our advocacy doesn’t end when the budget bill is signed. It’s a sustained effort that we undertake each and every day on behalf of those who rely on us — individuals with disabilities and mental health needs and their families.

You can view the specifics related to our budget priorities here. And make no mistake about it. This small success is a sign of bigger things to come.

Thank you for all you did, for all you continue to do, and for your continued support and engagement. Your support made the difference.

Capitolwire: New Year Dawns Without Budget in Place

By: John Finnerty, Capitolwire.com Bureau Chief

HARRISBURG (July 1) – The new fiscal year started this morning without a state budget in place to pay for it and no obvious signal that the Legislature will quickly get a budget to the governor.

Late Thursday, Senate officials announced that the chamber won’t even be in session on Friday, though the Senate has plans to be in session on Saturday and Sunday. The House is scheduled to be in session Friday and Saturday, though at the close of Thursday’s session, Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, reminded members to monitor their emails for updates on session days.

Despite the annoying aggravation of having to work through the holiday weekend, the broader immediate sting of failing to meet the state budget deadline doesn’t exist anymore due to a 2009 Supreme Court decision requiring that state employees must continue to receive their paychecks even if the budget hasn’t been passed.

Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York, the Majority chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said that not having a budget in place has little, if any, immediate impact on state agencies.

Gov. Tom Wolf has been pushing for a dramatic increase in spending while Republicans have been trying to get the governor to agree to rollback controversial proposals including the bridge tolling plan (though a Commonwealth Court ruling Thursday ordered that the tolling plan be halted) and charter school regulations.

Alexis Campbell, a PennDOT spokeswoman, said that while the tolling plan has been met with objections, the administration is still waiting for lawmakers to explain how to pay for the needed bridge repairs and in the long-term replace the gas tax.

“To date, the legislature has failed to offer any solutions beyond their approval of this P3 initiative, that will assist the administration’s desire to phase out the gas tax. The Wolf Administration continues to welcome discussions with the General Assembly on alternative funding sources that can replace the gas tax, which is no longer a dependable source of funding to meet all bridge and highway needs in this commonwealth,” she said.

Republicans say they are interested in restraining Wolf’s spending proposals in order to position the state to better weather an economic slowdown.

“Senate Republicans continue to work towards a budget that invests in the people of Pennsylvania and ensures the financial stability of the Commonwealth as we face economic headwinds due to the Biden Administration’s inflationary policies,” Erica Clayton Wright, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said in a statement released late Thursday night.

Amidst all of this, former President Donald Trump weighed in earlier this week, issuing a statement in support of a poll watcher bill sponsored by Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, and calling for Republicans to refuse to pass a budget unless it includes other election integrity changes.

Groups lobbying for election access have called for Wolf to veto Mastriano’s Senate Bill 573, and a Wolf spokeswoman strongly hinted that Wolf would veto the legislation, saying the administration “strongly opposes” the bill.

(Source: Capitolwire, July 1, 2022).

RCPA has signed onto a letter to Congressional leaders of the Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Committee on Finance, along with 244 other signatories, outlining the need for parity in addiction and mental health care under Medicare.

As the President’s 2023 Budget and Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan report has highlighted, Medicare is not subject to the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Parity Act). As a result, Medicare beneficiaries do not have coverage of or access to the full range of mental health and substance use disorder benefits they need, and often lose access to treatment they were receiving prior to becoming eligible for Medicare. Although Congress has eliminated disparate financial requirements for Medicare beneficiaries, Medicare still imposes both quantitative (e.g. 190-day lifetime limitation on psychiatric hospital care) and non-quantitative treatment limitations that would violate the Parity Act. Applying the Parity Act to Medicare Parts A, B, C, and D is the critical next step to make mental health and substance use disorder services available and accessible to the millions of Medicare beneficiaries in need of treatment.

Read the full letter here.