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Legislation would address UPMC-Highmark dispute
Recognizing the impact the UPMC and Highmark dispute could have on millions of Pennsylvanians, I worked with Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) to draft legislation intended to protect consumers if the two parties do not settle their grievances.
Senate Bill 1358 would amend state law to give the State Insurance Commissioner greater authority to extend the terms of the existing contract between Highmark and UPMC, thereby providing additional time to allow for adjustments to the health care marketplace in western Pennsylvania.
Likely most people in our region are well aware that Highmark and UPMC are battling over their service reimbursement contract which is set to expire on June 30, 2012. The key point is that if that contract is not renewed, about 2,700 doctors in the UPMC system would be considered "out-of-network" for Highmark, which provides insurance coverage for about 3 million people in western Pennsylvania.
This has caused a lot of anxiety for consumers, so the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, which I chair, has held three public hearings this fall to review the dispute and determine what, if any, regulatory role Pennsylvania has over the battling parties.
After hearing testimony and considering submissions by consumers, physicians, advocacy groups, and the primary parties involved in this dispute, it would be unacceptable to allow physicians' contracts to expire on June 30, 2012 without state action. We as legislators cannot simply stand on the sidelines and watch consumers get pushed off a cliff. Since neither side seems willing to work towards reaching an agreement, it becomes more and more apparent that legislative action will be necessary.
The Banking and Insurance Committee's first hearing on the contractual issues as well as Highmark's pending acquisition of the West Penn Health System was held on September 13 at the University of Pittsburgh with testimony provided by State Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine; James Donahue, III, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Office of Attorney General, Antitrust Section; Mark Pacella, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Office of Attorney General, Charitable Trusts and Organizations Section; Dr. Tony Farah, Chief Medical Officer, and David McClenahan, a board member, of West Penn Allegheny Health System; and David Balto, a former policy director with the Federal Trade Commission.
Dr. Ken Melani, President and CEO of Highmark, and Jeffrey Romoff, President and CEO of UPMC were the featured speakers at the Committee's second hearing, held on September 22 in the Erie Insurance Building in Erie. Dr. Melani and Romoff again testified before the committee at a hearing held November 30 at the University of Pittsburgh.
Legislative redistricting maps finalized
After an in-depth study and conducting several public forums, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission approved the realignment of Pennsylvania's state legislative districts on December 12 to reflect population shifts as indicated by the 2010 census. The new districts will become effective in 2012.
Unlike Congressional Reapportionment, state Legislative Reapportionment does not require approval by the General Assembly.
The Commission, a bi-partisan, bi-cameral panel, actively worked to ensure the process was open to public review and input and that the final maps truly reflect the population and diversity of Pennsylvania. To view the final maps, visit the Commission's website: www.redistricting.state.pa.us/
The map changes the boundaries of the 41st Senatorial District I represent by moving the district somewhat to the south and east. Primarily, I will no longer represent Butler County, but will pick up a portion of Somerset County.
The new 41st District will be made up of the following areas:
Wayne Avenue renaissance continues
I am pleased to report that another major step in the renaissance of Wayne Avenue corridor in Indiana was recently achieved as the state Department of General Services conveyed a 3.35 acre tract adjacent to the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex to Indiana University of Pennsylvania for a proposed hotel project.
The land acquisition for the Kovalchick Complex hotel is exciting news and a significant milestone in the overall effort to develop the Wayne Avenue corridor.
There is no question the success of Kovalchick Complex will be further enhanced by the construction of a high-quality hotel, and IUP's commitment to the completion of this project in a timely manner is vital. I appreciate the efforts of the state departments of Environmental Protection and General Services, as well as those of all the local partners who have worked together in this endeavor.
This project is another major milestone in our efforts to move Indiana County forward.
Allow extra time for birth/death certificate requests
I would like to make you aware of the increase in time it takes to obtain Birth and Death Certificates. The state Vital Records office, which handles those requests, said the estimated processing time is:
16 to 18 weeks if the applicant mails the request;
8 to 12 weeks if the applicant makes the request through a legislative office;
2 to 3 weeks if the request is sent "Priority Mail" with a stamped self-addressed envelope;
7 to 10 days if that same procedure is followed using "Priority Overnight Mail;"
2 to 3 weeks if it is submitted online.
A few reasons exist for the increase in processing time. This year, Vital Records has experienced a record number of Birth and Death Certificate requests, mainly because of new laws that require passports for re-entry into the United States. Also, to obtain records from the mid-1970s or before, Vital Records must manually search for them at its New Castle location, as those records are not yet included in their computer database.
To remedy the problem, Vital Records has hired additional staff to work on the backlog of requests. In addition, they have been working most Saturdays this year to increase the volume of requests they process. My office will continue to monitor the issue and work with Vital Records to decrease the amount of time it takes to obtain a Birth or Death Certificate from the Commonwealth. I hope you find this information useful and plan accordingly when seeking to obtain a record.
Supreme Court of Pennsylvania seeking Veterans Courts mentors
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is seeking volunteers to assist former servicemen and servicewomen who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
The Court is recruiting mentors in support of the state Judiciary's expanding number of Veterans Courts. Judges in those courts assign mentors to provide support and guidance to veterans caught up in the court system who are struggling with drug/alcohol, mental health and other difficulties. Pennsylvania currently has eight Veterans Courts in operation. Three additional counties have announced plans to form Veterans Courts, and at least four more courts are expected to open in 2012.
More information about Veterans Courts mentorship is available on the Pennsylvania Judiciary's website at: http://veterans.pacourts.us
PHMC rekindles spirit of Christmas past
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission invites you to take a nostalgic trip into holiday seasons past with the recordings of late historian and broadcaster Peter Wambach.
Twelve of Wambach's award-winning "This is Pennsylvania" radio programs – each with a holiday theme – are available online at http://phmc.info/wambach. Originally aired between 1969 and 1976, subjects include Christmas in Pennsylvania, Music of Christmas, Berwick's Christmas Boulevard and the Philadelphia Mummers.
Wambach, a self-made Pennsylvania historian who died in 2007, produced radio vignettes for more than 100 radio stations statewide from the late 1960s into the mid 1980s. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is the official history agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Visit it online at www.phmc.state.pa.us.
Attorney General offers holiday tips to avoid common consumer problems
Pennsylvania Attorney General Linda Kelly urged consumers to exercise caution during the holiday season to avoid common problems, scams and fraud.
Before making a purchase at a store
Online shopping tips
Carefully consider requests from charities
If you have questions or concerns about a consumer issue, or
you believe you have been targeted by a holiday scam, contact the Attorney
General's Bureau of Consumer Protection at 1–800–441–2555. For additional
information on these and other consumer related topics, visit the Attorney
General's Website at
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