Senators Tout Plan to Boost Community Health Care

SouthEast Lancaster Health Services Provides Crucial Safety Net

LANCASTER — State Senator Lloyd Smucker (R-13) and Senator Mike Brubaker (R-36) held a news conference today at SouthEast Lancaster Health Services as part of an effort to improve health care access and expand Pennsylvania’s health care safety net through the HealthNET PA legislative package. Senators Smucker and Brubaker were joined by Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Ted Erickson (R-26), Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman (R-34) and representatives of the health center and Lancaster General Hospital.

“Clinics such as SouthEast Lancaster Health Services in my district are a crucial resource in providing affordable care to residents,” Smucker said. “We need to invest in these clinics so that they can reach even more people who are in need of care but may not be able to afford it, particularly in these tough economic times.”

“We at SouthEast Lancaster Health Services are proud of the quality of care that we provide to those most in need in our community,” said James Kelly, Executive Director of SouthEast Lancaster Health Services. “We will continue to provide a medical and dental home to those individuals and families who may not have other options to obtain such care.”

“These Senate Bills provide the targeted support that non-profit hospitals, clinics, and physicians need to expand access to care – especially for those struggling with a lack of healthcare insurance,” Thomas Beeman, CEO of Lancaster General Hospital “We need clinics and the volunteer healthcare services provided by programs like PALCO to provide consistent primary care and specialized treatment to prevent and treat health problems early. It’s tremendously encouraging to see legislation that recognizes and supports this type of local commitment and leadership from the medical community.”

The HealthNET PA plan would expand access to health care and medicine to more than 500,000 uninsured and low-income working Pennsylvanians. It would utilize information technology to control costs and reduce health care-associated infections, provide expanded insurance options for employers and families and will incorporate the concepts of disease prevention and wellness.

The plan includes a bill sponsored by Senator Brubaker that would improve health care access and affordability by creating a volunteer program of health care providers for low-income Pennsylvanians. The Keystone Care Program Act would create a network through which doctors, hospitals, nurses, physician assistants and others would be encouraged to volunteer their services, offering expanded health care capacity and access to specialty services for those with a demonstrated need. The program would provide grants to an approved health care resource network.

Brubaker said the Keystone Care Program would be modeled after the Project Access Program launched in 1996 in Asheville, North Carolina, to treat low-income uninsured individuals on a volunteer basis. The program is in use in Lancaster County today.

“The Project Access Program has been successful because it promotes continuity of care and preventative services by allowing patients to establish relationships with their doctors and reducing usage of more expensive emergency room services for non-emergencies,” Brubaker said.

Senator Erickson said the number of Pennsylvanians who do not have health insurance has increased since 2004, and a bad situation was made worse with the nation’s economic struggles.

“Workers and families who find themselves in a position they did not create need a health care safety net, and that’s what HealthNET PA provides,” said Senator Erickson. “HealthNET PA provides direct care — not simply insurance — to uninsured and low-income working Pennsylvanians. And it does so more quickly, and at a fraction of the cost, of other state and national proposals.”

Senator Corman agreed, noting that the state is facing a multi-billion dollar revenue gap and must use existing resources to help meet health care needs.

“This is an innovative and fiscally responsible way to provide health care directly to the people who are in the greatest need, using existing sources of funds,” Corman said. “In the current economic downturn, more and more Pennsylvanians are having a difficult time accessing the basic and specialty care they need. Health clinics can provide them with those services directly and in a community-based setting.”

The senators discussed the 15-bill HealthNET PA package, which includes legislation that would develop or expand health care clinics across Pennsylvania to provide “medical homes” for 175,000 working-poor clients and ease pressure on hospital emergency rooms.

Features of the 15-bill HealthNET PA package include the following:

Improving Access to Health Care and Medicines

Establishing the Community-Based Health Care Program for the expansion and site development of health care clinics across Pennsylvania to provide “medical homes” for 175,000 working poor clients and ease pressure on hospital emergency rooms.

Implementing a physician/health care facility volunteer program through which an additional 159,000 uninsured patients would be assigned to a primary or specialty care physician, with access to free specialty care, labs and inpatient hospital care.

Creating a registry of free prescription drugs and allowing retail establishment pharmacies to sell prescription drugs at a minimal cost, such as $4.

Making Health Care More Affordable

Helping hospitals and doctors’ offices convert to Electronic Medical Records, boosting evidence-based diagnosis and treatment protocols, and encouraging Telemedicine expansion.

Permitting health insurers to withhold payment to providers in the event of a medical error, and allowing employers to establish “Healthy Living Committees” qualifying for insurance discounts.

Providing funding of a critical cost-saver – the reduction of health care-associated infections.

Expanding Coverage

Providing “Mini-Cobra” coverage for small business employers, creating a high-risk pool for individuals who cannot access other coverage, and extending the option of dependent coverage to age 30. (Nearly half of uninsured Pennsylvanians are age 18-34.)

Providing $5 million in state tax credits for the use of Health Savings Accounts.

Permitting a group of ten or more employers who belong to a non-profit business coalition to pool their health-related insurance liabilities in order to self-insure.

For more information, including statistics, charts and useful links, please visit the HealthNET PA homepage at www.pasenategop.com/healthnet.htm.

CONTACT:
Tim Nyquist
Phone: (717) 787-1377