STATE—State officials held a press conference April 9 to discuss partner bills, Senate Bill 390/House Bill 986, seeking to delay enactment of a human services overhaul which looks to convert the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) to a statewide or regional broker model.

According to a press release from the office of Representative Jonathan Fritz (R-111th, Wayne/Susquehanna), the anticipated adjustment, approved in the 2018-2019 budget, those in favor of the brokerage model estimate $15 million in additional federal funding, while those who oppose note doing so “would result in $31.5 million in additional costs and jeopardize the other programs contributing to the shared ride system.”

Noting vast bipartisan support for the bills, Fritz stated in his press release, “Stakeholder groups and counties throughout the Commonwealth have expressed dire concerns with these sweeping changes that could completely alter the delivery of vital services for critical populations.

“Rural residents, especially our senior citizens, greatly depend upon this crucial program. Should we proceed with the intended transition of being managed by a statewide or regional entity at this point in time, our rural residents could lose accessibility.”

Wayne County Commissioner Wendell Kay explained the anticipated alterations would separate county transportation usage into two systems, one for those receiving non-emergency medical assistance and another for the county's aging population.

“We are strongly against this idea because it would result in duplication of assets,” said Kay, explaining that if two individuals are going to the same hospital for a check up, but one is elderly and the other MATP eligible, the system would send two separate vehicles to transport the individuals regardless of the distance between their starting locations.

Kay also explained the expected changes would centralize transportation dispatch, rather than rely on county management.

“We know the terrain, we know the roads, and we're in a much better position to schedule or arrange those kind of rides than any central body would be,” said Kay.

At Tuesday's press conference, Senator Lisa Baker (R-20th, Wayne /Pike /Luzerne /Wyoming /Susquehanna) explained the proposed bills look to delay implementation of the brokerage model for one year and disallow the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) from taking action for 90 days thereafter, so that a joint state government committee can assess the impact such a change would have on rural communities in the Commonwealth.

“State officials should take the time to get this right,” said Baker, Tuesday. “If we attempt to force a system that is flawed, it will fail to produce the greater convenience for patients and the intended cost savings for taxpayers.”

Several speakers at Tuesday's press conference expressed the sentiment that a one-size-fits-all model is not feasible as demographics differ drastically between Pennsylvania's more densely populated cities and its rural counties.

As of press time Thursday afternoon, SB 390 passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on April 10 by a 10-1 vote and is ready for its first consideration on the floor.

HB 986 had been referred to the House Health Committee as of April 2, but no votes had been taken as of press time Thursday afternoon.

—Information from a release was used in this story.