- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



When the Continental Army was discharged in 1781, the new government of the United States didn’t bother paying the soldiers who had defeated the greatest power on the planet. Two years later, former soldiers from Pennsylvania marched on the Capitol in Philadelphia and demanded their pay, prompting the Congress to flee to Princeton, New Jersey. A few weeks later, the U.S. Army forced the protesters out of the capital.

But that was just the beginning of the government reneging on promises to veterans. The current situation, in which veterans face long waiting periods for access to health care, is only the latest example.

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge vetoed a bill proposing a special bonus for World War I veterans, declaring that “patriotism bought and paid for is not patriotism.” Congress disagreed and overrode the veto, authorizing bonuses to be paid over several years.

The Great Depression intervened and ceased those payments, however. After thousands of World War I veterans marched on the Capitol in the summer of 1932, occupied some buildings and built a camp on the National Mall, President Herbert Hoover ordered the Army to clear them out. Troops under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, including a tank unit, did exactly that.

Ideally, the current problem will be the last regarding unkept promises to veterans. First, Congress and the administration should do whatever is necessary to ensure that veterans get the health care they need. Then, before rushing into a needless war like that in Iraq, lawmakers and the president should estimate the long-term costs of its consequences for the soldiers whom they place in harm’s way.

- (Pottsville) Republican Herald



Last week, state senators in Pittsburgh heard more testimony on the coming separation of UPMC and Highmark. The time for talk, though, is over. Gov. Tom Corbett needs to act.

As just about everyone knows, most Highmark customers will lose their in-network access to most UPMC facilities beginning Jan. 1. This will be a tectonic shift for people in Western Pennsylvania.

Highmark, the region’s largest health care insurer, and UPMC, the largest health care provider, have had contracts for decades that provide easy entry for Highmark customers. The landscape changed, however, when Highmark jumped into the hospital business last year by acquiring the West Penn Allegheny Health System and relaunching it as the Allegheny Health Network.

UPMC took it as an opportunity to declare, essentially, that it will close its doors Jan. 1 to most Highmark policy holders. In the meantime, UPMC is steering them toward other insurance policies, including its own UPMC Health Plan, so they can maintain access to UPMC physicians and facilities. (Many Highmark customers can’t change plans, however, because their insurance is determined by their employer.)

Remarkably, UPMC calls this competition. Yet there is no competition when the currency of a potential customer - a Highmark insurance card - is rejected at the door. Says UPMC, “Your money is no longer good here,” thereby dictating competition strictly on UPMC’s terms.

Highmark, for its part, appears shocked - shocked! - that UPMC would get its back up over the insurance giant moving into the hospital field. Although the public should be grateful for Highmark’s rescue of the five-hospital Allegheny Health Network - which will save jobs and stave off a UPMC monopoly - the price comes in Highmark customers’ loss of UPMC services. That’s not right.

Next year, when the split occurs, many patients will lose their doctors. Care will be compromised. Harm will be done.

In Harrisburg, Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate have responded with bills to require integrated health-care/health-insurance systems, such as UPMC and Highmark, to give access to any holder of a legitimate insurance policy. But Republican Senate leaders appear bent on quashing the idea. That leaves the people’s hopes in the hands of another Republican, Tom Corbett.

It was Mr. Corbett who was instrumental two years ago in getting UPMC and Highmark to extend their contract. It is Mr. Corbett who can and must bring them back to the table now to negotiate a way out of this mess.

Given the changing nature of health care and health insurance - the more direct competition regionally, the growing trend nationally of insurers narrowing their menu of health care providers and the overall desire to help more people afford coverage - a new arrangement between UPMC and Highmark in 2015 may look different from the present one. Call it a contract (Highmark’s preference) or a transition plan (UPMC‘s), but semantics should not stand in the way of what is fair for the people whose premiums, payments, donations and state-sanctioned tax exemptions have built these thriving, essential institutions.

The next agreement may not be as open-ended for insurance customers, particularly in letting them choose from redundant facilities in the rival hospital networks. It could come, conceivably, with modest surcharges to let a customer keep a favorite physician. But it should not bar from UPMC or AHN a whole class of people simply because they carry the wrong insurance card.

There is no greater issue right now in the Pittsburgh region, and Pittsburgher Tom Corbett must get personally involved. He has a health department and an insurance department that can put the brakes on any company with business practices that do harm to the public. It’s time for the state to use its muscle.

It’s true that Mr. Corbett has other things on his plate - a state budget to balance and a re-election campaign to wage. But effective leaders also meet the unforeseen challenges that are thrust on them. UPMC-Highmark is a big one, and Tom Corbett’s moment is now.

- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



Whether the Pennsylvania General Assembly should have legislative accounts and, if so, how large they should be, are matters of debate.

Routinely making public the amount of taxpayer dollars in the accounts is not, and lawmakers should be ashamed of themselves for not doing so even as the state’s new fiscal year fast approaches.

In the past, the General Assembly has been criticized for sitting on surpluses between $215 million in 2005-06 and $141 million in 2011-12.

The justification for the surpluses - as explained by Rep. Gordon Denlinger, of Narvon - is that the they are needed to keep a governor from unfairly gaining leverage over the General Assembly.

In 1991, Gov. Bob Casey zeroed out the General Assembly’s funding to gain leverage in budget negotiations.

It worked, Denlinger said. “The crippled House and Senate quickly caved in to the largest tax increase in state history.”

That’s when the legislative accounts were born and, according to Denlinger, they prevented Gov. Ed Rendell from getting tax increases through the Legislature during his two terms in office.

Denlinger makes a good case that experience justifies a reasonable surplus.

With it costing about $25 million per month to run the General Assembly, he said, $120 million in reserves would allow it to operate for about four-and-a-half months - “a level that should provide for taxpayer protection.”

What is completely unjustified, though, is the apparent reluctance of the Legislature to disclose how much is currently in the accounts.

From 2007 to 2010, the Legislative Audit Advisory Commission has commissioned, reviewed and released annual audits of the state House and Senate’s legislative accounts - revealing details such as expenses paid and how much is being held in reserve.

The latest audit has yet to be released.

And Eric Epstein, cofounder of Rock the Capital, is right to object.

“Taxpayers are entitled to see how their tax dollars are spent on a timely basis,” he said, expressing frustration that the numbers have not been made public well ahead of budget negotations for 2014-15.

With the budget due to completed by June 30, the audit should have been released months ago.

If lawmakers are to be trusted with spending the people’s money, they should give an accurate and timely accounting of it.

- Lancaster New Era

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