News

Persistence, hustle needed to turn a health care bill into a law

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Apr 27, 2015 9:14 AM

(Harrisburg) -- It's one thing for state lawmakers to okay something along the lines of naming April Distracted Driving Awareness month.

It's another to get a majority to agree to changes to something like health care provider self-referral.

It can take a lot of starts and stops for a bill to break through, get House and Senate approval, and the Governor's signature.

The long, drawn out process to get a bill through the building just off State Street in Harrisburg is just the same as Washington, D.C.

"Probably harder to get people to focus on health care. Simply because it doesn't affect everybody," says Democratic Representative Harry Readshaw of Allegheny County.

But Brent Ennis, Chief Advocacy Officer for the Pennsylvania Association of Family Physicians, has a different point of view.

"Just because health care is such a personal issue for everyone, from birth to death, so it kinda lends itself to a lot of broad based attention and critique," says Ennis.

Here's how anxious a legislator can get to draw some attention to his proposal.

I asked Readshaw if I could talk to the person who spurred his idea to increase price transparency.

Next thing I knew, he had pulled out his cell phone and was calling his doctor. 

A plea for attention might be how advocates feel when they talk to lawmakers about health care, and how legislators feel when they propose a change, only to see it never even make it out of a committee.

scottchadwick.jpg

Photo by Ben Allen/witf

Scott Chadwick, Chief of Legislative Affairs for the Pennsylvania Medical Society.

One of those advocates is Scott Chadwick, a former state lawmaker himself.

He's now the chief legislative counsel for the Pennsylvania Medical Society. He tracks all the health-care related legislation in a handy Excel spreadsheet.

But if you walk into his office, you're also greeted by a whiteboard nearly half the size of one wall.

"And there isn't much on it right now because we're at the start of a new two year session," says Chadwick.

The bill numbers are listed one by one, not much so far, but it'll fill up.

Nearly all the health bills proposed so far are nothing new - they're simply reintroductions in the legislature.

"It's not unusual for it to take several sessions. We determined HIV testing needed to be updated. It took us three sessions to get that done and enough momentum to get that passed. It's not unusual to have to come back to get something done," Chadwick adds.

Chadwick says this isn't anything unique to the health care world.

Controversial so it can take some time, on a small issue, can take a while and it's hard to build up enough momentum to get it done.

Some issues may affect a lot of people. Others may touch an unlucky few.

Listen to Democratic Representative Tony Deluca of Allegheny County: "Alopecia is an auto immune disease especially for women and young children," 

He's proposing, for at least the second time, that health insurers cover hair transplants for people with alopecia.

He goes on: "We had people in previous years. I'm trying to get the attention of the chairman."

On the other hand, Representative Harry Readshaw's bill could start to reshape a pretty big slice of the health care world by requiring hospitals to make their prices public for some procedures.

That could help hundreds of thousands of people, especially in a world where more of us are expected to pick up at least some of the cost.

"It will obviously stir them to saying hey, I understand this will cost $3000, I'm going to go online and see what some other medical facility may be charging for this."

Remember Readshaw pledging to get his doctor on the line, the guy who had the idea? Here he is, Dr. Joseph Rudolph.

charge blank blank, discount, final charge and that's what you actually pay, if this is the actually charge, that should be made public.

As of now, we're in the first frame of a nine inning ball game - the two year legislative session. No significant health care bill has made it through both Senate and House committees.

So what's the lesson in all of this? At the Capitol, it's all about trying, trying, and trying again - even, or maybe especially, in the world of health care, where lives can be at stake.

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Comments: 1

  • Larry img 2015-04-27 10:05

    If it is a bill originated from conservative ideology groups such as the NRA, ALEC, or SPN, etc. the bills will fly by before their is any scrutiny.

    These bills are ideological and have nothing to do with bettering life for Pennsylvanians, and may in fact harm a community.

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