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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

 

Pennsylvania Medicaid Expansion Approved by Federal Government

Medicaid ExpansionFederal regulators recently approved a revised Medicaid expansion plan sought by Governor Corbett and his Administration.  To a great degree, the approved plan mirrors the expansion plan sought by Senate Democrats for more than a year.  With the approval, Pennsylvania became the 28th state to opt into the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. 
 
The result of the federal approval of Medicaid expansion is that an estimated 500,000 Pennsylvanians will have access to health care beginning in 2015; federal money to pay for the program will begin to flow; minimum benefits as proscribed under federal law will be established; and the proven service delivery model in Pennsylvania’s current Medicaid program will be used for the expansion.  All these points were emphasized by Senate Democrats for nearly two years. 

The plan approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) would cover individuals who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level who do not qualify for traditional Medicaid or federal subsidies on the health insurance exchange.* 

2014 Federal Poverty Income Guidelines

Family Size

100% of Poverty

105% of Poverty

133% of Poverty

138% of Poverty

1

$11,670

$12,254

$15,521

$16,105

2

$15,730

$16,517

$20,921

$21,707

3

$19,790

$20,780

$26,321

$27,310

4

$23,850

$25,043

$31,721

$32,913

5

$27,910

$29,306

$37,120

$38,516

6

$31,970

$33,569

$42,520

$44,119

7

$36,030

$37,832

$47,920

$49,721

8

$40,090

$42,095

$53,320

$55,324

 *The ACA rules provide for a 5% income disregard - - so in practice the eligibility guidelines are approximately 105% and 138% of poverty.

The waiver allows the state Department of Public Welfare (DPW) to impose an insurance premium for individuals between 100 and 133 percent of federal poverty beginning in 2016.  The premium is capped at 2 percent of income.  There are no premiums for those at or below the poverty level.

An individual will have a grace period of three months to pay overdue premiums before they are no longer enrolled. Unlike the Administration’s original plan, an individual may re-enroll without any waiting period or “lock-out.” There are no specific hardship exemptions included in the plan to protect certain individuals if they are unable to pay.

The expansion uses the current system’s delivery model of managed care provider networks to deliver services to those who qualify.  This system has long been considered a model for delivery nationwide.
While all benefits provided in the traditional Medicaid program and the new expanded program fall in line with federal law, Pennsylvania has provided benefits in excess of the federal minimum for years recognizing the value of preventive services.  Changes to benefits must be monitored closely to determine impacts on quality of care.

While this is promising news for Pennsylvania, the fact remains that because of the Administration’s stubborn refusal to push this plan forward for over a year, more than a half million Pennsylvanians could have had access to affordable health care this year. Instead, Pennsylvania taxpayers were the victims of political games whereby federal dollars were refused and potential state savings were ignored.  Most importantly, potential recipients of meaningful health care access were denied coverage only to end up with a plan that largely reflects the position advocated for by me and my Senate Democratic colleagues.  Because of the delay, Pennsylvania has lost well over $1.7 billion in federal dollars, more than $300 million in budget savings and an estimated 19,000 jobs. 

While there are plenty of questions to be asked and details to come, this Medicaid expansion plan will help deliver health care benefits to those in need.  The approval took too long, became too complicated and was turned into a political issue unnecessarily. 

Beware! - Deceptive Student Debt Relief Offers

PHEAA PHEAA As the Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), I want to urge all student loan borrowers to be extremely cautious if solicited by any company offering student loan debt relief.  Many borrowers are being targeted by deceptive offers that are predatory in nature.  These offers could include debt relief through loan consolidation, loan forgiveness, or defaulted loan assistance. 

These companies typically charge significant fees for services upfront, sometimes through non-existing programs, and many of these services are readily available and free from the federal government.  Before paying for any assistance related to student loan management or debt relief, borrowers should contact the servicer of their loans to learn what options are available and receive assistance in determining which option is best for them.

Student loan debut is a serious problem and one that is growing.  The average student loan debt in Pennsylvania for a four-year degree program currently exceeds $31,000.  With so many people feeling overwhelmed by student loan debt, some unscrupulous companies are trying to take advantage of borrowers with expensive scams and worthless services.

To avoid deceptive student loan debt relief offers, borrowers should do their homework.  Always begin with free options and be suspicious of any company that charges a fee or requires payment in advance.  Information on the many repayment options available, including Income-Based, Pay as You Earn, Graduated, and Extended Fixed Repayment plans, can be found at www.studentaid.ed.gov.

PHEAA also offers free advice on student loan repayment, debt management options, career development, and household budgeting on their www.YouCanDealWithIt.com website.  Also, college-bound students and their parents can visit PHEAA’s www.MySmartBorrowing.org to help them make informed decisions early in the college planning process to ensure that any future college debt is properly anticipated, understood, and manageable.

Below are additional tips and suggestions from PHEAA:

  • Borrowers can easily apply for federal student loan consolidation at www.studentloans.gov.
  • Borrowers can learn if consolidation is a good option for their particular situation by visiting www.MyFedLoan.org and using the simple-to-use Loan Consolidation Estimator.
  • Federal student loan borrowers who are employed in a public service career may be eligible for loan forgiveness.  The free application for this program is also available at www.MyFedLoan.org.
  • Borrower support and other information is available from your loan servicer.  At the first sign of difficulty repaying a loan, the loan service should be the borrower’s first and most immediate point of contact for assistance.  If unsure of who the loan servicer is, the National Student Loan Data System is available at www.studentaid.ed.gov.

Also borrowers need to be sure to protect their private information.  Do not provide a federal student loan Personal Identification Number (PIN), password, or Social Security Number to a third party.  Any personal information share with an untrusted third party could be used to commit identity fraud or identity theft.

Did You Know…

Did you know the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that 40 million borrowers owe a record of $1.2 trillion annually?

Flu/Pneumonia Shots & Senior Clinic – September 30th

FluI am hosting my annual Flu/Pneumonia Shot & Senior Clinic on Tuesday, September 30th from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. in Quinn Hall at the Church of the Resurrection in Brookline.  American HealthCare Group will be providing the free vaccinations to any senior with the Medicare Part B health insurance card.  Make sure to bring your card with you.

In addition to receiving a flu or pneumonia vaccination, attendees will have the opportunity to visit with representatives from several organizations and learn about available services and resources available to them.  The Duquesne University Mylan School of Pharmacy will be in attendance to answer specific questions about medications.  The Attorney General’s office will also be represented, providing information to seniors on protecting themselves from abuse and from scams, frauds and identity theft.  I am pleased to also have the following organizations in attendance providing important information:  Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging; Primary Care Health Services; AARP; Office of the Consumer Advocate; LifeSpan; Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; and PA APPRISE.

If you need a flu or pneumonia shot or if you’re interested in visiting with these organizations, I hope you’ll consider attending.  Light refreshments will be served.  I hope to see you there!

Fire Company/Volunteer Ambulance Grants

Fire CommissionThe Pennsylvania Office of the State Fire Commissioner (OSFC) has opened the online grant application process for the 2014-15 Fire Company, Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant Program (FCVASGP).  The application was made available online on September 3rd and will remain open until October 17th at 4 p.m.  No applications will be accepted after October 17th.

All fire companies, volunteer ambulance services, and volunteer rescue squads are eligible to apply for grant funding.  Organizations may apply for grant funding for a combination of up to two projects.  These projects must be for the following:  construction and/or renovation of the fire company’s or ambulance service’s facility; the purchase or repair of fixtures and furnishings necessary to maintain or improve the capability of the company to provide services; the purchase or repair of firefighting, ambulance or rescue equipment; debt reduction associated with the facility or equipment; or the training and certification of members.

Grant applications are available online by clicking here.  For organizations that submitted a grant application last year, you must create a new User ID and Password in order to access the 2014-15 grant application.

Health Care Symposium

The Allegheny County APPRISE program and the Allegheny Link to Aging and Disability Resources, in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy and University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work are presenting the health care symposium, Health Care in Our Community: Possibilities and Realities.  This symposium is scheduled for September 23rd from 9 a.m. – noon in the Grand Ballroom of the University Club, located at 123 University Place in Oakland.

The symposium will examine the accessibility of quality health care in our community and its cost.  A panel of experts including representatives from health provider systems, government health agencies and private social service programs will lead a discussion and the format is designed to create a dialogue among the panelists as well as the audience.

The event is free but seating is limited to approximately 300.  If you are interested in attending please RSVP via email to mckendreew@fswp.org.

8th Annual NAMI Walk

NAMI Walk NAMI Walks

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Southwestern Pennsylvania is hosting its 8th Annual NAMI Walk on Sunday, October 5th at the Waterfront in Homestead.  The festivities begin at 9 a.m. with the walk beginning promptly at 10 a.m.

The family-friendly event features complimentary refreshments, music, activities for children, entertainment, and a 5K walk along the scenic Steel Valley Trail along the Great Allegheny Passage.  There is no fee to register but fundraising is encouraged.  All funds raised support NAMI Southwestern Pennsylvania in its mission to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness through recovery focused support, education, and advocacy. 

For more information or to register, please visit NAMI Walks Southwestern Pennsylvania website or call 412-366-3788.

booksUsed Book Sale

The Friends of Scott Township Public Library will hold its annual Used Book Sale from September 25th – September 28th in the Community Room at Scott Township Park.  There will be over 5,000 books for sale.  For times and more information on the Used Book Sale, please visit the Friends of Scott Township Public Library on Facebook.  You may also visit www.scottlibrary.org or call 412-429-5380.

EducationFontana Fact

The 2014-15 school year is underway with most schools around our area opening over the last two weeks.  Across the United States, roughly 49.8 million students will attend public elementary and secondary schools across this fall and nearly 3.3 million students are expected to graduate high school this spring.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

  Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Fax: 412-344-3400
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol
Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plz.
524 Pine Hollow Rd
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Fax: 412-331-2079
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Phone: 412-343-2080
Fax: 412-343-2418
The State Fire Commissioner