|Senator Fontana participated in a Budget Town Hall Meeting on May 28th at the Union Project in Highland Park. He is joined at the conclusion of the meeting by Rep. Ed Gainey, Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Rep. Jake Wheatley, and Rep. George Dunbar along with Erin Kramer from One Pittsburgh and Nikki Lu from the SEIU who helped organize the event.
Highmark-UPMC Consent Decree Lawsuit Update
A Commonwealth Court hearing on the state Attorney General’s lawsuit filed in an effort to ensure that UPMC and Highmark honor their 2014 agreement took place last week with focus on the medical center’s intent to terminate its Medicare Advantage contract with Highmark. The hearing resulted in Judge Dan Pellegrini withholding a ruling from the bench temporarily. However, several days later, Judge Pellegrini ordered UPMC to maintain in-network rates until 2019 for people insured by Medicare Advantage.
In June 2014, a consent decree was brokered by the commonwealth between the region’s largest insurer, Highmark, and largest provider, UPMC. The five-year deal, which bars revisions or a new contract, is designed to soften the impact by allowing at risk patients, including seniors, the opportunity to continue to see their UPMC doctors until their conditions are stable or resolved. However, provisions were put into the decree that if conflicts should ever arise between the two businesses over the enforcement of the agreement, an arbitration process will settle them.
UPMC informed Highmark in February of this year that it intended to cut off Medicare Advantage access, which grants Highmark’s Medicare patients in-network access to the UPMC hospital system, to the 182,000 Western Pennsylvania customers. In April, the Wolf Administration, the state Attorney General’s office and the state Departments of Insurance and Health filed a motion that UPMC and Highmark have not complied with the consent decrees. These agencies want the courts to force the two companies into arbitration, extend the Medicare Advantage agreement and resolve outstanding pricing and billing issues.
In the meantime, UPMC asked Commonwealth Court in early May to rule as a matter of law that the hospital network’s decision to end its Medicare Advantage contract did not violate the state-mediated agreement.
After 10-hours of testimony, the only true determination was the unwillingness for the two companies to come together and negotiate a resolution. By the end of the day, Judge Pellegrini expressed that he feels that neither side is here to do what is good for the public, rather only worried about their own earnings.
However, the court inaction was short lived when on Friday Judge Pellegrini granted the motion filed by the state that UPMC must accept Medicare Advantage customers. The two companies are also being forced into negotiation where they must pick an arbitrator by July 1st and list and resolve any matters by September 30th.
The judge also ordered that the two companies supply the state with monthly updates on the progress and may not make changes to any plan, contract or business relationship between the two “no matter how small” without first getting approval from the court.
Earlier this month, I signed on to a “friend of the court” legal brief backing the state Attorney General’s lawsuit to enforce the Highmark-UPMC consent decree because I feel that this protracted legal dispute between these two vital health care entities continues to cause widespread confusion and panic. It is also depriving our region’s people of the quality care they have always relied on. I look forward to supporting a legislative remedy on issues UPMC and Highmark refuse to resolve on their own and hope a resolution can be achieved with Judge Pellegrini’s ruling and cooperation between the Allegheny delegation in the near future.
Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
Qualifying seniors in Allegheny County will soon be able to pick up vouchers for locally grown fruits and vegetables. The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program is a federal program that is administered at the state level by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. This program attempts to provide seniors who are nutritionally at risk a means to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from approved Pennsylvania farmers.
The program provides recipients with four $5 voucher checks for a total year benefit of $20 to redeem at qualified farmers’ markets. Checks may be spent through November 30th on produce that is grown in Pennsylvania or purchased directly from a Pennsylvania farmer.
Some examples of produce that may be purchased with the vouchers are apples, beans, berries, carrots, grapes, melons, spinach and tomatoes. Customers must spend the entire $5 check and change will not be given.
The distribution of voucher checks will take place on Tuesday, June 16th at senior centers throughout Allegheny County. Checks are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Seniors are asked to bring identification showing proof of age and residency to the distribution site.
To be eligible, individuals must be an Allegheny County resident age 60 or older. The income limit for a one-person household is $21,775 and is $29,471 for a two-person household. Married couples may each receive one set of checks. If an eligible consumer requires a proxy to receive their checks, the proxy is responsible for signing for and spending the checks for the individual. All individuals must completely fill out a proxy form in order to have a proxy receive checks for them.
For a complete listing of voucher check distribution locations and times, or to download a proxy form, please visit Allegheny County Department of Human Services website at http://www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/olderadults.aspx. A listing of distribution sites, farmers’ market locations and proxy forms can also be picked up in my district offices. Anyone with questions on the program can also call the Allegheny County SeniorLine at 412-350-5460.
In last week's edition of my News & Views, I updated you on two projects on the Northside I was proud to support as a member of the Board of Directors for the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County, as recommended by Allegheny County Economic Development. There are two additional projects I supported that I would also like to mention.
The first is the Hill House Association’s Facilities Improvement Project. The Hill House Association was founded 50 years ago with a mission of improving the quality of life for individuals and families living in the City of Pittsburgh’s Hill District neighborhood and surrounding areas. The Hill House will be receiving funding to make improvements to its Kaufmann Center and auditorium.
The Carnegie Science Center, located on the North Shore, will also be receiving assistance to help with the conversion of their Omnimax Theater into a giant flat screen laser digital theater. These needed improvements will enhance the Science Center’s mission to delight, educate, and inspires through interactive experiences in science and technology
I look forward to continuing working with community groups and residents in all neighborhoods I represent so that more of these projects can come to fruition in the near future.
Drug Related Deaths
In recent months there has been a growing epidemic in drug related deaths within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Just recently, the Departments of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) and Health (DOH) issued a joint statement regarding the Pennsylvania Coroner’s Associations report issued a little over a month ago on overdose death statistics.
According to the report, the number of individuals who have died as a result of drug-related overdose deaths reached 2,489 in 2014. This is a highly staggering number, displaying a 20 percent increase from the prior year.
If you or anyone you know needs help or is interested in learning more about drug treatment programs and services, please visit www.ddap.pa.gov/gethelpnow.
Did You Know…
Did you know that deaths from drug overdose have risen in Pennsylvania from just 2.7 per 1,000 individuals in 1990 to 15.4 per 1,000 individuals in 2011?
Local Teacher Honored
I want to congratulate Jeff Tripodi, a teacher at Blackhawk High School, on receiving the 2015 Roy A. Hunt Foundation Award Commitment to Education in the Arts and Humanities. Jeff, a resident of Stowe Township, teaches Honors American History, Anthropology, and Legal Oratory and Debate to students in grades 9-12, and also serves as the advisor and coach for the school’s mock trial team.
The Roy A. Hunt Foundation Award for Commitment to Education in the Arts and Humanities is presented each year to a teacher who has demonstrated a commitment to participating in the Frick Art & Historical Center’s education programs, and who has successfully integrated the arts and humanities into the students’ learning experience. Jeff has been lauded for his efforts in preparing his students for their futures in part by introducing them to the Frick Art & Historical Center so that they may further their learning process.
Congratulations to Jeff on receiving this prestigious award!
Stroll the Strip!
Neighbors in the Strip is hosting their 4th annual Stroll the Strip on Thursday, June 18th. The annual event provides residents and visitors the opportunity to “Savor the Neighborhood” by visiting over a dozen host locations to see what exciting venues have to offer in the Strip. The event, which is an annual fundraiser for Neighbors in the Strip, is scheduled from 5 – 8 p.m. More information on the event, host locations, after party, and ticket and sponsorship information can be found at www.strollthestrip.com.
The Morningside neighborhood in the City of Pittsburgh was incorporated into the City shortly after the end of the Civil War in 1868. Once a part of Collins Township, the area known as Morningside at that time did not refer to a neighborhood, instead referred to a small agrarian community in the flat bottom of the Morningside Valley. This valley got its name from the large amounts of sunlight it received in the morning.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
|| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Tuesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Strip District (Mobile Office)
Pittsburgh Public Market
2401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Thursdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm