State could save millions annually in health costs

HARRISBURG – An experienced health care management firm told members of the Senate Majority Policy Committee today that the state could see an 8 to 15 percent reduction in all medical costs through the use of new technology and evidence-based medicine.

During the hearing, representatives from MedExpert touted the results of its Medicaid coordinated care initiative in Alaska. The program uses technology and health care management tools to directly assist patients in getting the care they need.

The hearing, which was held at the request of Senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) and hosted by Senate Majority Policy Committee Chairman David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks), focused on how a similar system could be applied to Pennsylvania’s healthcare market.  

“Our return on investment in Alaska in year one was roughly 50-to-1,” Mary Hiller, MedExpert’s Executive Director of Knowledge and Engineering, testified. “The difference is technology.”

“It makes good sense for lawmakers to explore every avenue to improve patient outcomes and save tax dollars, and other states have already begun using new technology and creative approaches to accomplish both goals,” Martin said. “It is extremely encouraging to hear the amount of savings that could be generated if we follow a similar strategy in Pennsylvania.”

Argall asked Hiller what Pennsylvania taxpayers could expect to save in General Fund savings if Pennsylvania were to adopt a similar system as what is in place in Alaska.

“You would expect 8 to 15 percent drop in all medical costs,” Hiller replied.

“We are talking about significant amounts of tax dollar savings, and an opportunity to improve health care for many Pennsylvanians,” Argall said.

Senator Martin plans to introduce legislation that will direct the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to issue a Request for Proposal to pave the way for a similar program to be implemented in Pennsylvania.

More information, including the agenda, presentation and video of the hearing, is available here.

Senators David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks) and Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) review testimony from MedExpert during a Senate Majority Policy Committee public hearing at the state Capitol on Tuesday.

 

Senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster) asks a question during Tuesday’s Senate Majority Policy Committee at the state Capitol.

Bartolotta Bill Would Expand Practice Authority for Nurses

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HARRISBURG – A bill introduced today by Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46) would remove unnecessary state regulations that currently prevent Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) from treating patients to the full extent of their education and training.

Senate Bill 25 would modernize the Professional Nursing Law to permit qualified APRNs to practice in their field of specialty independent of a physician after they fulfill a three-year, 3,600-hour collaboration agreement with a doctor. The bill would remove administrative burdens that serve as an obstacle to patients receiving quality health care services.

Bartolotta pointed out that expanding practice authority for nurse practitioners would help improve the availability of health care services across the Commonwealth, especially in rural and underserved areas. Nearly 35 percent of Pennsylvanians live in an area or population group with inadequate primary care access.

“Numerous studies have shown that patient health outcomes are as good or better under the care of nurse practitioners when compared to other providers,” Bartolotta said. “Many rural communities suffer from a severe lack of health care access, forcing many patients to travel an hour or more for care. Expanding the practice authority of APRNs is a logical step to help break down the barriers to quality health care services.”

Several statewide and national advocacy organizations have voiced their support for full practice authority for nurses, including the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, the National Academy of Medicine, AARP and the National Governors’ Association. Twenty-nine senators have signed on as co-sponsors to Senate Bill 25.

Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C. have already adopted full practice authority for APRNs. The Senate approved legislation similar to Bartolotta’s during the 2015-16 Legislative Session.

CONTACT: Colleen Greer (717) 787-1463

Sen. Scavello, Rep. Hahn Joined by Families, Advocates to Announce Spinal Cord Disability Research Legislation

 

Harrisburg – State Senator Mario Scavello (R-40) and Rep. Marcia Hahn (R-138) today were joined by families and advocates to announce legislation to fund spinal cord disability research in Pennsylvania. 

Senate Bill 31 would create the Spinal Cord Disability Research Grant Program aimed at discovering new and innovative treatments and rehabilitative efforts for spinal cord disabilities. The legislation would invest $1 million into a grant program that awards grants to research institutions for research into spinal cord injuries.

“People with spinal cord disabilities need our support and one million dollars for research can go a long way in ensuring that these individuals can live a vital life,” Scavello said. “Pennsylvania has led the charge on many medical breakthroughs with our talented research universities and vibrant medical landscape. If there is a breakthrough out there that will provide boundless opportunities and positive impacts on the lives of people with spinal cord disabilities in Pennsylvania and across the nation, we should provide the tools and take a leading role in this effort.”

Joining Senator Scavello and families was Rep. Marcia Hahn (R-138), who is sponsoring similar legislation in the House of Representatives.

“I am proud to author House Bill 385, the companion piece to Senator Scavello’s legislation, said Hahn. “There are approximately 12,000 new cases of spinal cord injury each year in the United States and experts believe we are approaching the day when repair of spinal cord injuries is possible. Our legislation would move us even closer to that day.”

Pennsylvania would join a dozen other states, including New Jersey, Ohio, New York, Maryland and Virginia, supporting this effort. Many of these states now represent the cutting edge in spinal cord research and have made extensive breakthroughs in a short period of time.

You can follow Senator Scavello on Twitter and Facebook.

CONTACT: Christine Zubeck czubeck@pasen.gov (717) 787-6123

 

Bartolotta, Schwank Reintroduce Postpartum Depression Proposal

HARRISBURG – Senators Camera Bartolotta (R-46) and Judy Schwank (D-11) reintroduced legislation today that would extend early intervention services to newborn and infant children of mothers affected by postpartum depression (PPD).

Pennsylvania has a monitoring system in place to protect infants who suffer from certain medical conditions such as low birth weight or lead poisoning, as well as those born into potentially dangerous environments, including children born to chemically dependent mothers, homeless children and infants who suffer from abuse and neglect.

The Senators’ proposal, Senate Bill 200, would add PPD to the list of conditions that are monitored through the existing state program to determine families in need of assessments, tracking and early intervention services.

“Postpartum depression can be a devastating problem both for a new mother and her child, and the consequences can last a lifetime,” Bartolotta said. “Adding these families to the state’s monitoring system will help ensure that mothers and infants receive the care and services they need.”

The American Psychological Association estimates that more than one in seven new mothers experience PPD. The condition can adversely affect a baby’s cognitive development, and carries an increased risk of abuse and neglect.

About 21,000 babies and mothers in Pennsylvania annually are believed to suffer from PPD, and the American Academy of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that all mothers be screened for this illness.

“Making sure every baby has a healthy start is a way to avoid serious and costlier problems later,” said Schwank, Senate Democratic chair of the Women’s Health Caucus. “By making sure babies of mothers with PPD get the services they need, we’re not just doing something important for them. This really makes sense for all of us.” 

CONTACT: Colleen Greer (717) 787-1463

Senate Approves Bill Addressing Cancer Drug Cost Disparity

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Senator Don White voted for a measure approved by the Senate today (June 28) that improves accessibility of oral chemotherapy treatments and urged his colleagues to continue that effort by supporting legislative action to address health care affordability.

Currently, intravenous chemotherapy medications are usually covered under a health plan’s medical benefit, often only requiring a minimal fixed co-payment. Oral chemotherapy medications are often covered under a health plan’s pharmacy benefit and require patients to pay a percentage of the total cost of the drug, generally between 25 to 30 percent. House Bill 60, which addresses the cost disparity between intravenous and oral chemotherapy treatments, returns to the House of Representatives for concurrence on Senate amendments.

“While House Bill 60 is a positive development in fighting cancer, the debate surrounding this issue also exposes one of the main cost drivers in the overall cost of healthcare – prescription drug costs,” Senator White said in comments on the floor of the Senate prior to the bill’s passage.  “Indeed, if prescription costs for oral chemotherapy were not so astronomical, we likely wouldn’t be passing this legislation today.”

Senator White urged his colleagues to also support Senate Bill 893, which would provide openness and transparency to the pricing and cost of prescription drugs.

“I ask those who advocated for passage of House Bill 60 to join me with the same level of passion and commitment to take meaningful steps in addressing the underlying issue, the cost of prescription drug pricing,” Senator White said.

Contact:          Joe Pittman     jpittman@pasen.gov

Tomlinson Hails Passage of Bill to Offer Cancer Patients Greater Access to Oral Chemotherapy Drugs

Legislation that would enable cancer patients to select and pay for their best treatment option, including oral chemotherapy, has been approved by the General Assembly, according to Senator Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks), who was the Senate sponsor of the legislation.

Tomlinson said House Bill 60 would ensure that treatment options for patients are not limited on the basis of how the therapy is administered.

He said under current law, intravenous anti-cancer medications are typically covered under a health plan’s medical benefit, often requiring patients to pay a minimal fixed co-payment.  Orally-administered anticancer medications, however, are covered under a health plan’s pharmacy benefit, making them much more costly and sometimes an unaffordable option for patients.

“Under the pharmacy benefit, oral anti-cancer medications are classified in the highest tier of a health plan’s cost-sharing system, requiring patients to pay much higher out of pocket costs for a treatment that is just as effective and often much more convenient,  Tomlinson said. “This creates a huge financial barrier for patients to access the same medicine prescribed by their doctor just because it’s in an oral form.”

House Bill 60 would require health insurers to provide coverage for orally administered chemotherapy on a basis that is at least as favorable as an insured’s co-pay; coinsurance or deductibles are for intravenous or injected chemotherapy treatment.

“This legislation is intended to help cancer patients by making oral cancer drugs more affordable and accessible,” Tomlinson said. “This is important as we help cancer patients to better manage their care, especially since some oral medications can drastically reduce many side effects of treatment.”

He added that 39 states and the District of Columbia have passed these critical laws to increase access to oral oncology drugs that are crucial to patient survival.

CONTACT:

Jennifer Smeltz
(717) 787-5072

Senate Approves Reschenthaler Resolution Aimed At Improving Care for Mentally Ill

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The State Senate this week approved a resolution sponsored by Senator Guy Reschenthaler (R-37) urging Congress to support federal legislation to provide greater assistance to individuals with mental illness and their families.

Senate Resolution 275, which received unanimous support, calls on Congress to support HR 2646, the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act.

“Nearly 10 million Americans have a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression, and many do not receive the treatment that the desperately need,”  Reschenthaler said during remarks on the Senate floor.  “Too often, those suffering mental from mental illness end up in the criminal justice system or enduring homelessness because of insufficient mental health programs and policies.”

Reschenthaler said the measure is based on a recommendations made after a comprehensive review of the country’s mental health by the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation, chaired by Congressman Tim Murphy. The committee found that many who were in need of care were denied access to treatment.

“We have watch as federal barriers to care have turned our streets, prisons and emergency rooms and into warehouses for those with serious mental illness,” Reschenthaler said.  “This legislation would assist millions of Americans in need by fixing the current bed shortage, helping doctors and families become partners in the care of those with mental illness, and providing more funding for evidenced-based programs that make a difference.
With improved treatment and programs, Reschenthaler said more programs and services would be available to support those with mental illness and enable them to lead full, productive lives.

CONTACT: Aaron Bonnaure (717) 787-5839

Senate Leaders: Addressing PA’s Heroin and Opioid Epidemic a Top Priority

(HARRISBURG) – Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-25) and Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34) today highlighted the importance of continuing to address the widespread heroin and opioid addiction across Pennsylvania.

The Senators said that over the past two years the Legislature has been working to raise awareness on the issue and taking positive steps forward to address this epidemic.  In 2014, The Center for Rural Pennsylvania began holding public hearings to examine and discuss current policies and practices related to heroin and opioid addiction, including prevention, treatment and law enforcement efforts.

Senator Gene Yaw (R-23), in his role as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, has been instrumental in leading a bi-partisan and bi-cameral effort to raise awareness about the epidemic and look at ways to educate the public and effectively treat those with an addiction.

To date the Center has held 10 hearings across the state, received 60 hours of testimony and issued two reports that have resulted in action by the Senate to address the issue including recently passing Senate Bill 1202 (Yaw). The bill, which requires continuing medical education training for physicians in pain management and dispensing and prescribing practices of opioids, is awaiting action in the state House of Representatives.

More information and video of the hearings is accessible on Senator Yaw’s website www.senatorgeneyaw.com.  Additional legislative measures will be introduced in the near future.

“Rural, urban and suburban areas of our Commonwealth are all seeing the devastating impact of heroin and opioid abuse,” Scarnati said.  “For the past several years we have been working to bring people together to work toward combating this epidemic and helping our communities recover.  Legislative policies that we can change or implement to aid in this fight should certainly be advanced.”

“When we are looking at issues with drugs especially heroin and opioid addiction, we have found this is not just a big city issue,” Corman said. “It touches every corner of our Commonwealth and devastates families in every county. The Senate will continue to seek legislative answers that will provide our communities with the tools they need to fight this epidemic.”

“When we started working on this issue over two years ago, our objective was to raise the awareness of the heroin problem in rural Pennsylvania,” Yaw said.  “We quickly discovered that this is a problem that affects all Pennsylvanians.  I am encouraged to see that our efforts are being recognized, as evidenced by actions of the General Assembly.”

The Senate has recently advanced three important legislative initiatives that were signed into law to combat this crisis:

  • Senate Bill 524 (Scarnati) – Now Act 80 of 2015 and established the Non-narcotic Medication Assisted Substance Abuse Treatment Grant Pilot Program within the Department of Corrections (DOC).
  • Senate Bill 1164 (Pileggi) – Now Act 139 of 2015 or David’s Law, provided legal protection for witnesses, or Good Samaritans providing medical help at the scene of an overdose. In addition, it allowed naloxone, a synthetic drug that blocks opiate receptors in the nervous system and known as the brand name Narcan, to be prescribed to a third party, such as a friend or family member, and administered by law enforcement and firefighters.
  • Senate Bill 1180 (Vance) – Now Act 191 of 2014, expanded the types of drugs monitored under the state’s existing Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) to include Schedule II through V controlled substances. It also created a Board within the Department of Health to establish and oversee an electronic data system listing.

“Addressing this epidemic remains a top priority for Senate Republicans.  We look forward to further discussions with House Leaders and Governor Wolf regarding ways to continue the fight to combat this devastating epidemic.  There are no quick fixes or answers to this crisis – we must move forward with a thoughtful and comprehensive approach.” Scarnati concluded.

 

CONTACTS:

Kate Eckhart (Senator Scarnati) 717-787-7084

Jenn Kocher (Senator Corman) 717-787-1377

Legislators, Health Advocates Push for Telemedicine Initiatives

 

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Senator Killion’s remarks
Senator Killion’s remarks

Senator Vogel’s remarks
Senator Vogel’s remarks

Senators Tom Killion (R-9) and Elder Vogel Jr. (R-47) today joined legislators and health care advocates at a Harrisburg news conference to outline initiatives aimed at promoting telemedicine in Pennsylvania.

The senators said that telemedicine – the use of medical information exchanged from one site to another via electronic communications – can expand Pennsylvanians’ access to specialized care, save time and costs and improve health care outcomes.

“Telemedicine can be used to connect to a specialists at a distance, deliver life-saving care and provide routine care in a cost-effective manner,” Killion said.  “It is the wave of the future in health care, and something our state should embrace and encourage.”

Killion is sponsoring legislation, Senate Bill 1318, that would allow eligible licensed physicians in one state to treat patients in other states via telemedicine.  Specifically, his bill would permit Pennsylvania to join the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, which has been spearheaded by the Federation of State Medical Boards.

“Joining the compact would increase medical access to Pennsylvanians in underserved areas, and connect individuals with serious illnesses to specialists in the field,” Killion said.  “The Compact not only makes it easier for physicians to obtain licenses to practice in multiple states but also strengthens public protections by enhancing the ability of states to share investigative and disciplinary information.”

Currently, 16 states have opted into this compact, and 10 others have introduced authorizing legislation.

Vogel is sponsoring legislation that would more clearly define telehealth, provide guidelines for telemedicine, and encourage its use.   He said the ability of patients in rural areas to access specialists may mean travel time and costs saved, as well as a new interaction with a provider.

“Telemedicine can vastly improve the availability of healthcare options for people in rural or urban areas, lower the cost of healthcare, and strengthen the bond between patients and their doctors,” he said.  “With telemedicine, long distances are no longer an impediment to receiving health care services from anywhere in Pennsylvania or across the country. We need to make sure this option is available for all Pennsylvanians.”

Health care advocates also called for advances in telemedicine during the news conference and urged the legislature to move quickly on initiatives to support its use.

“Policy around physician licensing is a century behind schedule, and we need to bring it up to current expectations, recognizing increased consumer demand for health care and improved telehealth technology capabilities,” said Michael Consuelos, MD, senior vice president of clinical integration for The Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania’s (HAP). “Health care access is a real issue in Pennsylvania and will only become more of a concern if changes are not made now.”

CONTACT: Michael Stoll – Senator Killion (717) 787-4712
Cheryl Schriner – Senator Vogel (717) 787-3076

 

Senate Committee Approves Yaw, Wozniak Measure to Increase Education in Pain Management, Opioid Prescribing Practices

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HARRISBURG – Legislation requiring continuing medical education (CME) training for those professionals licensed to prescribe in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was approved today by the Senate Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee, according to the bill sponsors Senator Gene Yaw (R-23) and Senator John Wozniak (D-35).

Senate Bill 1202 is intended to help stem the tide of opioid and prescription drug abuse in the state, which often leads to heroin use.

The bill requires state licensing boards to call for two hours of CME in “pain management” and two hours of CME in “opioid prescribing practices” for individuals applying for an initial license or renewal of an existing license or certification in the Commonwealth.

The increased use of heroin, which often has roots in the abuse of prescription painkillers like Vicodin and OxyContin, has catapulted Pennsylvania to seventh in the nation for drug-related overdose deaths in recent federal statistics.

“Approximately 80 percent of heroin addicts can trace their addiction back to prescription opioids,” Yaw said.  “Senate Bill 1202 would incorporate pain management and opioid prescribing practices within existing curricula requirements for medical prescribers, and as a portion of the total continuing education required for biennial renewal.   I want to thank Senator Tomlinson and the Committee members for approving this important measure that will aid in the fight against opioid abuse.  I also would like to thank the Pennsylvania Medical Society for working with us on this legislation.”

“The legislation will help keep the focus on addressing the heroin epidemic by requiring additional training in pain management and opioid prescribing practices,” Wozniak said. “It is clear that our ability to deal with heroin addiction requires maximum effort and energy in a variety of areas.  An excellent way to stop the heroin from spreading is through the implementation of sensible practices and policies that come from more education about opioids.”

According to a National Survey of Primary Care Physicians, nine out of 10 doctors reported prescription drug abuse as a moderate to large problem in their communities, and 85 percent believed that prescription drugs are overused in clinical practice.  Reversing heroin and opioid overdose trends will require a wide-ranging response from multiple partners, from improving opioid prescribing practices and expanding access to effective treatment, to working with law enforcement to disrupt the heroin supply, to increasing the use of medications, such as naloxone, to reverse drug overdoses.

Senator Yaw and Senator Wozniak serve on the Center for Rural Pennsylvania, a bipartisan, bicameral legislative research agency of the General Assembly, which, since 2014, has held 10 public hearings across the state on the heroin and opioid epidemic.

For more information on the Center’s hearings, click here.

CONTACT:

Rita Zielonis (Sen. Yaw)

717-787-3280

Josh Myers (Sen. Wozniak)

717-787-5400