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July 2009 St@teside

Pennsylvania Governor Signs Bills to Reduce Costs and Increase Access and Quality

On July 1, Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell signed four health care measures as part of an ongoing effort to provide coverage to thousands of uninsured Pennsylvanians, reduce health care costs, and improve overall health care quality.  Three of the measures were part of his Prescription for Pennsylvania (Rx for Pennsylvania) health care reform plan and the fourth was originally proposed as part of the Senate Republican package of health care bills.

According to a press release from Rendell’s office, the Governor signed the following bills:

Senate Bill 89:  As part of the Rx for Pennsylvania, this bill reauthorizes the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4)—an independent state agency formed in order to address rapidly growing health care costs.  The three primary responsibilities of the agency are to collect, analyze, and make available to the public data about the cost and quality of health care in Pennsylvania; to study, upon request, the issue of access to care for those Pennsylvanians who are uninsured; and to review and make recommendations about proposed or existing mandated health insurance benefits upon request of the legislative or executive branches of the Commonwealth.  Last year the agency was not reauthorized but Rendell kept it in operation through an executive order.

The agency’s first public report—also the first of its kind in the U.S.—quantified the cost and associated deaths from hospital-acquired infections and resulted in the passage of a Pennsylvania law (Act 52) which addressed infection prevention and reduction.  After the first year of implementation of Act 52, the infection rate in Pennsylvania dropped 7.8 percent, resulting in a savings of $372 million.

A study in the August 2008 American Journal of Medical Quality estimated that PHC4’s public reporting process prevented 1,500 deaths in one year in just six disease and treatment categories.

Senate Bill 189:  Also part of the Rx for Pennsylvania, SB189 will enable uninsured, single, adult children up to age 30 to be covered under their parents’ health insurance plan.  The employer chooses whether or not to offer this benefit to parents and the bill will go into effect in six months with coverage available on a rolling basis.  A 2008 survey by the Insurance Department found that this uninsured population accounts for 40 percent (383,298 Pennsylvanians) of the total uninsured population in the state.  The estimate is that this bill will provide access to health coverage for about 15,000 young adults.

House Bill 84:  This bill, again part of the Rx for Pennsylvania, prohibits health care providers from seeking reimbursement for a serious, preventable medical error, often known as “never events.”  Each year in Pennsylvania hospitals, about 140 patients die from an adverse medical event that might be both serious and preventable—at a hospital stay cost totaling approximately $21.8 million.

House Bill 1089:  This bill allows employees of small businesses (those with 20 employees or fewer) who lose their jobs to continue receiving their health insurance at their own expense for up to nine months.  What makes this law particularly significant is that the federal stimulus plan allows employees who lose their jobs and who qualify for COBRA to receive a federal government subsidy of 65 percent of the premiums if the employee pays the remaining 35 percent.  In Pennsylvania, any small business employee who is terminated after July 10, 2009, and before January 1, 2010, will be eligible for the subsidy.