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Senate Republican Budget Would End Health Initiatives That Save Lives and Money

HARRISBURG, Pa., May 21 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Elimination of funding for the Governor's Office of Health Care Reform as proposed by the Senate Republican budget plan would end a wide range of critical projects focused on reducing the rate of health care cost increases, improving quality of care and expanding access, GOHCR director Ann Torregrossa said today.

For the past two years the small "think tank" office has been working to implement the Governor's Prescription for Pennsylvania -- a nationally recognized blueprint for improving health care affordability, access and quality. Before that, the office worked on projects to help reform medical malpractice in Pennsylvania, to change the way the state paid for and delivered long-term living services and helped create and implement Governor Rendell's "Cover All Kids" initiative expanding the Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

"Pennsylvania leads the nation in the way we are treating chronic disease and aggressively working to eliminate health care facility acquired infections, and it doesn't make either economic or policy sense to abruptly shutter an office whose initiatives are saving lives and money," Torregrossa said in response to Senate Bill 850.

The proposal, which passed the Senate by a party line vote, eliminated all funds for implementation of the chronic care initiative and the Pennsylvania Health Information Exchange (PHIX), which is the statewide system needed to allow Pennsylvania's health care providers, payers and patients to exchange authorized electronic health information.

The chronic care initiative brings payers and primary care practices together to redesign the way care is delivered to individuals with chronic diseases, providing more active management and monitoring of patients, including efforts to help patients take more responsibility for managing their chronic conditions. It also combines the patient-centered medical home model so that health care will be improved for all patients in those practices.

The initiative has been called the most progressive in the nation and the Obama administration has been in discussions with Pennsylvania and is considering including a similar program in its national health care reform plan.

"In 2007 alone, hospitals in Pennsylvania charged more than $4 billion for avoidable hospital admissions for individuals with chronic diseases, which would not have been needed if those patients had received needed care from their primary care provider," Torregrossa said. "Pennsylvania ranked 41st in a national study for the number of hospitalizations that could be avoided with outpatient treatment of chronic disease. Just think of the amount of money taxpayers and consumers will save and the lives that will improve -- or even be saved -- once this initiative is completely in place."

More than 600 doctors and nurse practitioners serving more than 900,000 people in southeastern, south-central, southwest and northeast Pennsylvania are in various stages of implementing the chronic care initiative. Elimination of GOHCR funding will end the learning collaboratives and practice coaches that are helping primary care practitioners transform how they treat patients with chronic disease and from providing a patient-centered medical home. Later this year, 250 more practices serving an additional 600,000 patients in northeast and north-central Pennsylvania will be added, and the southeast initiative will be expanded.

The $2 million included in the Governor's proposed budget for this initiative has leveraged more than $28 million from 16 health insurers who have agreed to provide incentives to practices that re-organize care and meet quality benchmarks. However, if the chronic care initiative ends, the money from the insurers will also end because GOHCR was coordinating the project, a role that under the antitrust laws make these payments possible.

Another casualty of the Senate budget would be elimination of the money that the commonwealth is using to plan for the Pennsylvania Health Information Exchange, or PHIX, the statewide system needed to allow Pennsylvania's health care providers, payers and patients to exchange authorized electronic health information. Access to electronic health records will improve patient safety, reduce redundant tests and procedures and reduce overall health care costs, while improving public health monitoring and tracking.

PHIX is especially critical because hundreds of millions of federal stimulus dollars will only be available to hospitals, doctors, nurses and other health care providers to purchase and implement electronic health records if their states have a health information technology "highway" that PHIX will provide. That highway must be in place to allow the sharing of data which is a requirement to qualify for the Medicare funds.

GOHCR is also leading the complex negotiations with the federal government to gain a waiver that would bring hundreds of thousands of federal dollars to expand enrollment in the state's adultBasic health insurance program by 45,000 additional uninsured adults. The current adultBasic waiting list is 221,000 people, the majority of them hardworking men and women whose jobs either don't offer health coverage or offer coverage which is too costly for them to afford.

"Over the past six years, the Governor's Office of Health Care Reform has shepherded cutting-edge health care reform projects through the General Assembly -- programs that have been recognized by experts in Pennsylvania and across the nation as innovative and forward thinking," Torregrossa said. "The investment in terms of budget dollars has been miniscule, but the results have been enormous. Eliminating this office and its programs doesn't make sense, and would be a disservice to the people of Pennsylvania."

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 newsletter, visit:

    Amy Kelchner, GOHCR

SOURCE Pennsylvania Office of the Governor
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