HARRISBURG – Reps. Valerie Gaydos (R-Allegheny) and Mike Puskaric (R-Allegheny/Washington) today hosted the House Majority Policy Committee for a virtual hearing with health care and elected officials on COVID-19 effects on frontline workers, health systems and health care delivery.
Testifiers discussed the challenges of long-term care, testing, staffing, prescription affordability and allocating necessary funding to frontline workers to ensure the public’s safety.
“This crisis continues to wreak havoc on our lives,” said Gaydos. “We recognize that the virus is not likely to go away anytime soon so we must be problem solvers. We must learn what challenges our frontline workers have faced and are still facing, and specifically find out how government leaders and health care workers together can be more proactive in finding ways for us to move forward to safely live our lives. It starts with making sure that our frontline workers receive the necessary equipment and funding they need to serve the public.”
Norm Mitry, president and chief executive officer of Heritage Valley Health System, addressed not only the personal impact of COVID-19 but the financial impact as well. “This pandemic and the associated economic impact is far from over,” said Mitry. “As a community, whether it be regional, statewide or nationally, we need to come together efficiently and financially to effectively address the short-term and future healthcare needs of our respective communities.”
Arvind Venkat, MD, FACEP, immediate past president of the Pennsylvania College of Emergency Physicians, addressed Rep. Gaydos’ concern for the safety of frontline workers. “We need evidence-based standards from the Pennsylvania Department of Health on what is the appropriate use of personal protective equipment by health care personnel that are driven by science, not supply chain failures and perceived expedience. We also need regulations or legislation on the amounts of personal protective equipment that health care facilities are required to maintain with a mandated real-time system for reporting to the department when there are challenges in maintaining local supplies. This would allow the quick transfer of personal protective equipment from state-managed reserves.”
Puskaric addressed the issue of prescription costs. “More than 4.5 million Pennsylvanians have filled for unemployment compensation. People need to keep their families healthy and safe and the high cost of prescription drugs doesn’t help the unemployed. It is imperative that we drive down the cost of medication. Drug costs also hurt local businesses and employers as they struggle with rising premiums which are often largely attributed to the increased cost of prescription drugs.”
In her testimony, Teresa Osborne, advocacy and outreach manager of AARP Pennsylvania, discussed the high prices for prescription medication. Prescription drug costs account for about 25 percent of our health care premiums which exceeds the proportion spent on provider services. “We must tackle the problem in a comprehensive manner and remember the root cause is that pharmaceutical companies are getting away with charging too much for their products. The National Academy for State Health Policy reports that in 2019, 37 states enacted 62 new laws aimed at lowering prices for prescription medications. Pennsylvania needs to join that list.”
In addition, testifiers gave their thoughts on the next wave of demands due to a resurgence of COVID-19, flu season, testing, vaccination, etc. “We will need more lab capacity,” said Dr. Arvind Venkat. “We need our state government to forge better, stronger public-private partnerships. We need more support from the Regional Response Health Collaborative Programs which received $175 million in CARES Act funding to help enhance testing capabilities for long-term care.”
Zach Shamberg, president and chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said, “Funding for long-term care is lacking. The Medicaid program has been flat funded for the better part of the past decade. While the cost of care has risen each year and those receiving care in our skilled nursing facilities require more complex, more expensive care, reimbursement levels remain the same. Long-term care needs a long-term fix.”
Gaydos is the co-chair of the House Life Sciences Caucus, chair of the House Cancer Caucus, and member of the House Pharmacy Caucus. She and Puskaric have pledged to continue their work in the legislature advocating for lower prescription drug prices and more affordable health care.
“We want to thank Reps. Gaydos and Puskaric for hosting the Policy Committee and giving us the opportunity to speak with local healthcare officials about the many issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Martin Causer, chair of the House Majority Policy Committee. “Valuable information was shared, and we must prepare for what is to come, that must begin today.”
Click on the link to watch the House Majority Policy Committee meeting
Representative Valerie Gaydos
44th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Representative Mike Puskaric
39th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Rick Leiner