Gov. Rendell Joins Uninsured Consumers, Community Leaders, Legislators to Push for Passage of Health Care for All Pennsylvanians

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Joined by citizens facing the stark reality of living without health insurance, Governor Edward G. Rendell today urged the General Assembly to provide needed access to health care coverage for 767,000 uninsured adults by enacting his “Cover All Pennsylvanians” proposal. The Governor said approval of the proposal can be done while still helping physicians, especially high-risk specialists, to pay for their medical malpractice insurance.

Governor Rendell proposes to accomplish both by using surpluses in the Health Care Provider Retention Account, which helps to support the Mcare abatement program. “No one thinks they will be uninsured — just ask the people who have traveled from across Pennsylvania to join us today,” Governor Rendell said during a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda. “These folks know the reality — the reality that many Pennsylvanians will become uninsured for a variety of reasons ranging from loss of job due to illness or layoffs, loss of employer-sponsored health insurance, divorce or simply not being able to afford the rising premiums. “We can provide affordable health care coverage for the thousands of hard-working people who lack regular access to comprehensive health care by using available surpluses and combining them with other CAP funding sources I have previously proposed,” said Governor Rendell. “Best of all, we can do this while continuing to provide state-funded abatements that help physicians, especially specialists, and midwives afford their medical malpractice premiums, which keeps health care providers practicing in Pennsylvania so people can continue to have access to health care.” Because of the improvement in the medical malpractice climate in Pennsylvania, Mcare claims filings and annual payouts have decreased dramatically over the past five years, thereby creating reserves in the Health Care Provider Retention Account, which are not needed to support the Mcare abatement. The account currently has a $400 million balance. In December, Governor Rendell proposed a new funding option for the Cover All Pennsylvanians health insurance initiative, which would replace the originally proposed fair share assessment. The Governor has called for an increase in the cigarette tax by 10-cents and Pennsylvania’s first ever tax on smokeless tobacco to ensure that the CAP program and the Mcare abatement could be fully supported in addition to using the surplus in the Health Care Provider Retention Account. “This is a sustainable plan. Even with very conservative assumptions, there is enough money to fund health coverage and provide doctors with the help they need to pay their malpractice premiums for at least a decade,” the Governor said. Joining the Governor in support of the proposed plan were dozens of legislators, including state Sen. Vince Hughes (D-Philadelphia) and Rep. Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster), who spoke in support of the Governor’s Prescription for Pennsylvania health care reform plan and CAP. In addition, uninsured people who support the providing access to health care for all Pennsylvanians stood with the Governor at the event. Diana Ames, from Erie, spoke at today’s news conference. Ames’ husband Ron worked for GAF, an Erie shingle manufacturer that was forced to downsize after the price of crude oil began to skyrocket. When Ron was laid off at the end of March, he and Diana lost their health coverage. Diana works full time as the director of the PA Coalition to End Homelessness. Lisa Sportelli-Wright, of Allentown, said at the news conference that as the mother of a son with autism, she is keenly aware of the cost of health care. As a result of divorce, Lisa will no longer be covered by health insurance. Her son will continue to be covered but she is worried about getting sick and continues to worry about covering the costs for her son that insurance companies refuse to cover. There are nearly 800,000 uninsured adults in Pennsylvania; the overwhelming majority of whom work. Most of them want health insurance but cannot afford it. Because of a lack of coverage, the uninsured lack access to affordable basic care, meaning they often end up forgoing preventative care. Independent research has shown that the uninsured have a higher mortality rate, lower life expectancy and are more likely to miss work for illness. When a situation is bad enough, they end up receiving care in emergency rooms, the most expensive of health care settings. The cost of paying for care for the uninsured is $1.4 billion a year. About $400 million of that cost is directly paid by the state to hospitals to cover uncompensated care for the uninsured. The rest is paid by the businesses and individuals who do purchase health insurance coverage, as about 6.5 percent of every premium dollar paid goes to cover the cost of the uninsured. The abatement program was created by the Governor to provide eligible doctors, midwives, podiatrists and nursing homes financial relief from the Mcare assessment for a specific policy year when the program is in effect. (Act 44 of 2003 initially “abated” doctors and midwives. Podiatrists were added in 2004 and nursing homes in 2006). The 2003 law provided the abatement for 2003 and 2004. Each year since then, the abatement has been extended by the General Assembly for a one-year time period. In 2007, Mcare payouts were half of what they were in 2003, and two of the largest malpractice insurance providers in Pennsylvania recently applied to the Insurance Commissioner to lower their rates by 16 percent and 11 percent after two previous years of keeping rates flat. The Rendell administration is committed to creating a first-rate public education system, protecting our most vulnerable citizens and continuing economic investment to support our communities and businesses. To find out more about Governor Rendell’s initiatives and to sign up for his weekly newsletter, visit http://www.governor.state.pa.us.
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