State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Katie Meyer covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
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Links: Schools stymie scholarship program, watching for Medicaid waste, & navigating pension contracts

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Sep 5, 2012 1:07 PM

Lawmakers created the Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit program to give kids from low-income families a way to get out of underachieving schools and head to private or better public schools of their choosing.  Students who transfer take with them up to $8,500 for the school that accepts them.  The state allocated $50 million to fund the program, although it’s not yet fully stocked for the fall.  But WHTM abc27 reports another glitch:

No public schools in the midstate and only four in the entire commonwealth are participating in the program. They are saying no to the money. They are saying no to the kids.

"I would say the department's disappointed that more public schools have not participated," said Tim Eller, a spokesman for Pa. Department of Education, which is frustrated by the snub from public schools and the lack of choice for poor parents…

But public schools are reticent and wary and not exactly embracing what smacks of voucher lite.

"Programs like this are like throwing a few life preservers out into the ocean next to a sinking ship and then sailing off," said Stuart Knade, chief counsel of the Pennsylvania School Boards Association.

Federal funds are behind a computer program that will help the state flag wasteful and fraudulent Medicaid payments, reports the PA Independent.  The new system kicks in next year and won’t require additional personnel. 

Michael Lane is director of health care finance policy for the statewide industry group The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. He said when the state improperly pays a provider, oftentimes the provider will agree with the error and return the money.

In other cases, such as when the dispute is over the medical necessity of the claim, the case could go to court.

A system that could prevent the first type of scenario would help on both ends, Lane said.

"From the provider or hospital perspective, we never want to be paid for things we shouldn't be paid for," Lane said. "Anything that can cut down on that burden on both ends would certainly be beneficial to both."

But if the system ends up increasing the amount of time it takes for claims approval, or becomes a method for the state to withhold money, it could throw off hospitals' budgeting process, he said.

The Times-Tribune takes a look at pension reform proposals that would switch state lawmakers’ retirement plans from the defined-benefit pension plan based on salary, years in office, and their own contributions, to something more common in the private sector and similar to a 401 (k)-style plan.   State Rep. Tim Krieger (R-Westmoreland) has proposed such a switch, but it may not be a slam dunk:

Mr. Krieger's proposal to place sitting lawmakers in a defined-contribution plan raises questions of whether that would be considered as impairing a contract. State officials and pension fund managers have said that Pennsylvania can't legally reduce pension benefits for current and retired employees because the state Constitution and case law define them as a contract between the state and its employed that can't be impaired.

But some suggest the contract definition may not apply to pension formulas and benefits not yet earned.


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