Wolf targets bars, restaurants to slow coronavirus resurgence

Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania speaks at a March 12 news conference at Pennsylvania Emergency Management Headquarters in Harrisburg. On Wednesday, Wolf imposed broad new statewide restrictions on bars and restaurants and larger indoor gatherings.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf announced a three-pronged strategy Friday to rein in health care costs and help tackle inequities that unfairly impact minority communities.

“Even before the pandemic, there were warning signs that Pennsylvania’s health care system wasn’t working for everyone,” Wolf said. “Many Pennsylvanians found it hard to pay their medical bills due to rising health care costs, including families who have health care coverage and often have to pay higher premiums and more out-of-pocket costs every year.”

The administration can launch two parts of the plan on its own. The third would require action by the General Assembly.

The two parts that the state can move forward with immediately are the creation of an Interagency Health Reform Council and the creation of Regional Accountable Health Councils.

The third, creation of a Health Value Commission to provide greater transparency and set targets for health care costs, would have up to 15 members and would be appointed by both the governor and the General Assembly.

There’s no evidence that the proposal is going to get immediate traction in the Legislature. No lawmakers attended Wolf’s press conference announcing the plan. Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for the House Republican caucus said they know too little about Wolf’s plan to really respond to it.

“There remain many unanswered questions to very basic questions,” Gottesman said. “If there is any legislation introduced in furtherance of this plan, it will be reviewed as part of the normal legislative process.”

Unaffordable medical bills are devastating and the impact is widespread across the state, according to research by Pennsylvania Health Access Network.

Earlier this year, PHAN did a survey which found that 29 percent of people questioned said they’d delayed care due to concerns about cost, 19 percent had failed to fill a prescription, and 17 percent said they’d cut pills in half or skipped doses due to cost.

When people did seek medical care, one-third of them reported that paying the bills was a struggle that involved “using up all or most of their savings,” and “wracking up debt,” or using money that would otherwise go for food and other bills, said Antoinette Kraus, director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network.

“Far too many Pennsylvanians put off care or skip tests and treatment because of what’s in their wallets rather than what’s best for their health,” Kraus said.

The state council will make recommendations by the end of the year on how state agencies can work together to get better value out of health care spending.

The Department of Human Services will create five regional councils that will confront disparities in care and how social determinants — like poverty and lack of access to education and health care — impact the community.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.


CNHI PA State Reporter

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for the New Castle News and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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