(The Center Square) — After a months-long controversy over unionization language in Medicaid contracts that sparked a lawsuit, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services has removed the provision in question, citing concerns about “misinformation” and “confusion.”
Since March, DHS has been criticized by Republican state legislators and hospital groups over its proposed HealthChoices Medicaid Managed Care agreements, as The Center Square has previously reported. Past contracts have been worth $65 billion over five years and cover health-care expenses for 2.8 million Pennsylvanians.
The drama over the new contracts came from language that would prohibit network providers who had work stoppages in the previous five years from being included in Medicaid networks — unless they had signed a collective bargaining agreement.
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The language prompted the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania to file a lawsuit against DHS in early May, alleging that DHS overstepped its authority and didn’t follow proper procedure for adding the unionization language.
On May 26, DHS confirmed that the work stoppage provision would be dropped from the Medicaid contracts.
“Throughout this process the Wolf administration and the department’s focus has been on ensuring appropriate and uninterrupted access to care for the individuals we serve; and our focus will continue to be on ensuring access,” DHS Communications Director Ali Fogarty said. “However, it has come to a point where misinformation has begun to impact consumers. … As a result, we have decided that now, in the midst of plan changes and with a significant number of consumers having to select a new plan, that moving forward with the work stoppage provision could lead to additional confusion and concern among a vulnerable population.”
Fogarty emphasized that health care access was about more than travel time to a hospital.
“(Access to care) is also about whether individuals being served have access to adequate numbers of professionals that can provide high quality care, as well as support staff that provide other essential services,” Fogarty said. “It’s not just about strikes and work stoppages causing access issues. It’s about burnout and apathy that also pose an access barrier to safe, high quality care.”
The hospital association welcomed the news of the language change.
[I hope] that this issue is put to rest once and for all, and that we can all focus on solutions that improve health care outcomes — not something that’s going to create added costs and impact people’s access to quality health care in our state.”
“HAP thanks Governor Wolf and leaders in the Department of Human Services for working to make improvements to the commonwealth’s Medicaid managed care program that will enhance access to health care,” HAP President and CEO Andy Carter said. “We appreciate the administration working with the hospital community to prioritize Pennsylvanians’ ability to receive high-quality care in their communities.”
State Republicans were happy to hear of “a disastrous endeavor” being avoided, as Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, put it.
“I am thankful that this effort by the administration has been abandoned because it really would have been a significant impediment for people in other parts of the commonwealth that are outside the (major metropolitan areas),” Phillips-Hill said.
She was hopeful “that this issue is put to rest once and for all, and that we can all focus on solutions that improve health care outcomes — not something that’s going to create added costs and impact people’s access to quality health care in our state.”
The agreements remain on track to take effect on Sept. 1, according to DHS.
Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.