Gov. Wolf unveils health care reform package

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Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday announced a health care reform package that will focus on affordability for consumers, accountability for corporations and eliminating inequities in care and coverage, particularly those “resulting from systemic racism.”

“True reform means focusing on every aspect of a person that contributes to their health,” Wolf said, noting that the covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated problems but there were already warning signs the state’s health care system “wasn’t working for everyone.”

He said data shows that 36% of Pennsylvania residents reported finding it difficult to pay their medical bills – about 10% higher than the national average.

On top of that, he said, more than 1.5 million people in the state are expected to become uninsured as a result of the pandemic.

“As a board-certified and practicing internal medicine physician, I see firsthand how affordability and a whole-person approach to care is so crucial to helping Pennsylvanians access the health care they deserve,” said Dr. Doug Jacobs, the chief innovation officer at the state’s Department of Human Services.

He said the reform package, through three main components, will help make affordability a reality.

The Interagency Health Reform Council will be established through an executive order, which Wolf signed Friday after the press conference. The council will be made up of the heads of the DHS, the Department of Health, Department of Insurance and others. The group will focus first on finding the efficiencies already working within the system and look at how some programs might be aligned.

Secondly, DHS will require the formation of five Regional Accountable Health Councils across the state. The requirements will be added into managed care agreements, and the councils will look at regional approaches to reduce disparities and address what health-care professionals call “social determinants of health” — the conditions beyond medical care that affect health, such as income, pollution and food security.

Lastly, Wolf said he will work with the legislature to create a Health Value Commission, which will work to keep all payors and providers accountable for rising health care costs.

The reform will help lower costs for families who are already struggling, said Antoinette Kraus, director of Pennsylvania Health Access Network, a consumer-driven reform group focused on expanded access to health care.

“Far too many Pennsylvanians put off care or skip tests and treatment because of what’s in their wallets rather than what’s best for their health,” she said.

The Pennsylvania Association of Family Physicians also applauded the announcement, while adding that “we look forward to broader legislation that will implement a ‘health in all policies’ strategy to help ensure health equity for all Pennsylvanians,” President Dr. Tracey Conti said in a statement.

Wolf said the actions are necessary to make health care affordable and accessible, something he said is more important now than ever before.

“We are more aware now of how precarious many systems we all took for granted are, and how the inequities that exist in those systems harm some of our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians,” he said.

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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