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Senator Wayne D. Fontana
Senator Fontana joined Rep. Dan Deasy, Mayor Bill Peduto, and Councilperson Anthony Coghill last Wednesday in Beechview to celebrate the opening of Muddy Cup Coffee House, located adjacent to the Beechview Senior Center.

UPMC/Highmark Debacle 

Highmark/UPMCUPMC’s mission is to “serve our community by providing outstanding patient care and to shape tomorrow’s health system through clinical and technological innovation, research, and education.”   Their vision is to “lead the transformation of health care” and to be a model that is “nationally recognized for redefining health care.”  All of these are admirable qualities, but at what costs? Why even bolster these achievements if they are soon not going to be attainable for so many of the region’s residents?  Instead of the nation looking at our health systems for what they have accomplished in the medical fields, spectators are watching two health care giants bully each other while those who have received a rare or terminal diagnosis don’t sleep at night wondering when their state-of-the-art care is going to end. Where or who are they going to turn for the next phase of their treatments? 

The UPMC-Highmark saga is nothing new.  We have been hearing about it and negotiating deals since the breakup occurred in 2011.  However, no one really thought the time would actually come when the consent decree would end and the critical care that so many are relying on would stop.  Now concerned patients are faced with literally life or death scenarios.  Do they change to another health system because that is who their Highmark Insurance will cover?  Or do they continue to seek treatment with their UPMC doctors until their financial means run out? 

In early February, the Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro filed a petition in Commonwealth Court that would modify the consent decree between UPMC and Highmark and extend it by: 

  • Enabling open and affordable access to UPMC’s and Highmark’s Health-care services and products through negotiated contracts with any health plan;

  • Requiring last, best-offer arbitration when contract negotiations between insurers and providers fail;

  • Protect against excessive and unreasonable billing practices inconsistent with a nonprofit charity providing health care to the public.

The complaint states that UPMC is violating several of the state’s public charities laws by restricting access to its doctors and medical facilities.  While I support and applaud these efforts wholeheartedly, many question if this is even plausible to take place by the June 30 deadline. 

Another option I have signed onto is Senator Costa’s legislation that would require health systems to either contract with all health insurers for services or enter mandatory arbitration.  This would ensure that all patients can receive care with the specific doctors they want while also guaranteeing residents have access to these doctors at reasonable rates.  This legislation could make it through the Pennsylvania General Assembly in time if the Majority Party, who determine which bills will be considered, start hearing from constituents that this is important to them. 

Lastly, I feel that we need to start pressuring UPMC’s leadership to speak up against holding its patients hostage.  UPMC is governed by an unpaid Board of Directors that represent many stakeholders in the communities we live in.  These representatives need to hear from us.  Health care systems with a nonprofit status need to be responsible for the needs of ALL citizens, not just the ones they choose or who can pay astronomical bills.  This fight has only created future barriers to health care access.  While I am all about a competitive market, what is actually occurring is a competitive market that is anti-consumer and this cannot be tolerated.  Access to the best health care should be created equal and the unwillingness to work out an agreement is only going to end with a worst case scenario. 

Extreme Risk Protection Orders Legislation

Last week, I reintroduced legislation that would empower families and police officers to petition a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone who is a threat to themselves or others.

In nearly half of all mass shootings, the killer overtly expressed threats or deranged views aimed at harming people. It’s time that our state law backs families who are trying to protect innocent people while getting their loved ones the help they need. If my proposal were in place, it very well may have prevented both the Parkland and Squirrel Hill shootings. Inaction is no longer an option.

In cases where there is documented evidence that someone is threatening harm to themselves or others, Senate Bill 293 (SB 293) would empower a county common pleas court to suspend an individual’s access to firearms for up to a year. Modeled after domestic and sexual assault protection orders, my proposed Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) would require such individuals to immediately surrender their guns to police. The ERPO would also prohibit them from buying, selling or possessing firearms during the suspension.

In issuing an ERPO, the judge could also refer the person in crisis for evaluation to ensure that they get the help they need. During the suspension period, the subject could request a hearing to have the ERPO rescinded. Once the suspension period ends, a hearing would be held to determine if the ERPO should be lifted or renewed.

No one wants to see firearms in a deranged person’s hands. We can no longer stand back and wait for the next mass shooting at a school or church. People on all sides of the gun issue need to step up and seek common ground and workable solutions that prevent gun violence while preserving Second Amendment rights. Most gun control advocates respect Second Amendment rights; and most gun rights supporters favor reasonable firearm limitations.

It would be best if the U.S. Congress addressed gun violence issues and enacted uniform measures that could be implemented nationwide. Until that happens though, Pennsylvanians need to do what we can to support police officers and ensure the safety of those in our state.

Black History Month

Black History MonthFebruary is Black History Month in Pennsylvania and throughout the country.  This designation recognizes the many individuals who have contributed greatly to the quality of life not only for the residents of our state but also our nation.  These prominent African-American residents include scientists, inventors, farmers, educators, homemakers, explorers, judges and countless other professions that have impacted our lives.

Pittsburgh has always played a significant role in black history dating back to the anti-slavery movement.  The significant accomplishments that have been made by African-Americans just in our region alone are boundless. We are blessed to have terrific resources locally that help tell the story of African-American life through the years, the struggles, the achievements, and most importantly the people.

I am very proud of the significant accomplishments and invaluable contributions to society that have been made by my African-American neighbors and friends.  I encourage everyone to commemorate the struggles and victories of African-Americans in both our state’s history and our nation’s by visiting the various activities and events that will be conducted throughout this important month.

Did You Know…

Did you know that K. Leroy Irvis was the first African-American to serve as Speaker of the House in any state legislature in the United States since Reconstruction?  He served as Speaker of the House in Pennsylvania from 1978-1988.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program

Property TaxThe Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is now accepting applications for the 2018 Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program.  If you filed a paper rebate last year, you should receive an application in the mail.  Applications are also available at my district offices, online at www.revenue.pa.gov or by calling 1-888-222-9190.  As always, my staff would be happy to assist you in preparing your application.

The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older; widows and widowers age 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older.  The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters.  Please keep in mind, half of Social Security income is excluded.

Applications are due to the Department of Revenue by June 30 and rebates will be distributed beginning July 1. The program is funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery and revenue from slots gaming.

LIHEAP

LIHEAP LIHEAP The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) is accepting applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  The program helps low income families pay their heating bills.  You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website (www.compass.state.pa.us).  You can also pick up an application in my district offices or download one yourself from the DHS LIHEAP website. Completed paper applications should be returned to the Allegheny County Assistance Office, located at 5947 Penn Avenue, 4th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA, 15206.

Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.  The income limits for this season are as follows:

Household Size Income Limit
1 $18,210
2 $24,690
3 $31,170
4 $37,650
5 $44,130
6 $50,610
7 $57,090
8 $63,570
9 $70,050
10 $76,530

 

After your application is received you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive.  Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider and will be credited to your heating account.  Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat.  For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.

Civic Leadership Academy

City of Pittsburgh’s Civic Leadership Academy The City of Pittsburgh’s Civic Leadership Academy (CLA) is an engaging 11-week program that opens the doors of local government to the community. CLA was created to foster informed, effective, and inspired community leadership. The program includes tours, hands-on demonstrations, and informational activities that give participants an insider view of how the City of Pittsburgh operates.

While it is a competitive application process, the program is free and residents from across the city are encouraged to apply. In each session, participants learn about departments across city government and the services that each provides to build a safer, more livable city for all of Pittsburgh. Any Pittsburgh resident or business owner that operates in Pittsburgh can apply and I individuals actively involved in community organizations are encouraged to apply.

For more details, please contact Leah Friedman by calling 412-255-4773 or email leah.friedman@pittsburghpa.gov. Applications can be downloaded by clicking here or visiting http://pittsburghpa.gov/oca/cla-application. Applications are due no later than Feb. 28.

Fontana Fact

Chuck Cooper was the first African-American drafted in NBA history when the Boston Celtics chose him in the second round of the 1950 NBA Draft. Cooper attended Westinghouse High School and after serving in the U.S. Navy at the end of World War II, Cooper attended Duquesne University.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Brookline District
1039 Brookline Boulevard
Suite 2
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol | Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plaza
524 Pine Hollow Road
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
10 a.m. – 3 p.m. – First Tuesday of each month or by appointment