New Year Brings Continued Debate on Health Care Issues

Although it’s a new year, many of the same health care issues continue to dominate Pennsylvania’s landscape. These include access to care, the opioid crisis, and telemedicine. We’ve seen measures of success on some of these fronts but still have strides to make.

Increasing access to insurance

The good news is that Pennsylvania’s uninsured rate hit an all-time low of 5.5 percent during 2017 according to the Wolf administration.

With the advent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the 2015 expansion of Medicaid in Pennsylvania, more than 1 million Pennsylvanians gained access to health insurance. In fact, the governor said Medicaid expansion accounted for more than 720,000 state residents becoming newly insured. As a bonus, that uptick created at least 15,000 jobs to provide care for them.

In Pennsylvania, the premiums for individual insurance offered on the ACA marketplace have stabilized, resulting in an average, overall decrease of 2.3 percent for premiums during 2019 according to the state Insurance Department.

Still, on the federal level, challenges to the ACA persist. Stay tuned for the latest news, and how it might impact our state. Having health insurance is a crucial step on the road to better health.

Telemedicine growing in popularity

Health systems, hospitals, physicians, and other providers have been expanding their use of telemedicine to provide care securely and conveniently through computers and smartphones. The American Hospital Association reports that 65 percent of U.S. hospitals use video and other technology with patients and colleagues.

Last year, the Pennsylvania Senate approved legislation to define telemedicine and require insurers to cover a health care service provided via telemedicine when they cover that same service when delivered “in person.”

Look for more state legislative action on telemedicine during 2019. Lawmakers are beginning to discuss this important issue. Healthy Me PA will keep you updated on this important issue. Establishing ground rules for the use of, and payment for, telemedicine would help spread its use, and Pennsylvanians’ access to care.

Fighting the opioid crisis

 The state health secretary in January said Pennsylvania is making headway in fighting the opioid crisis.

The state Health Department said about 20,000 lives were saved by the overdose reversal drug naloxone. Treatment was provided to about 12,000 people who came to 45 state-run treatment centers.

Still, the fight against the crisis is far from over.

Pennsylvania declared the crisis a statewide emergency in 2018 and implemented policies aimed at prevention, including:

  • Opening an Opioid Command Center
  • Establishing 45 Opioid Centers for Excellence
  • Tightening guidelines for doctors who prescribe opioids and offering them education about alternative treatment options

Pennsylvania hospitals and emergency departments are doing their best to help overdose survivors connect to treatment for opioid overdose treatment. The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania is leading a learning collaborative to help hospitals share information and put in place the most effective ways of helping these patients get treatment.

One of the challenges is having enough behavioral health and substance use treatment resources to help overdose survivors transition from emergency departments to the specialized services needed to treat opioid use disorder. During 2019, look for more information from Healthy Me PA about this important topic.