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Daily Archives: October 11, 2018

Time Running Out to Pass Telemedicine Bill

Published by:

Andrea Sears

HARRISBURG, Pa. – With the state legislative session coming to a close, advocates are still hoping a bill that would expand options for Pennsylvanians to get health care will get a final vote.

Senate Bill 780 would require insurance companies to offer coverage for telemedicine services provided by phone, email or over the Internet at rates comparable to in-person office visits.

The bill easily cleared the state Senate in June, but the House has yet to vote on the measure.

Thirty-eight other states have similar requirements.

According to Bill Johnston-Walsh, state director of AARP Pennsylvania, it would be extremely beneficial to those who may have to travel an hour or more to see a doctor or specialist.

“Telemedicine has the potential to improve access to both health care and home and community-based services, and it will increase the choice of providers especially in rural areas,” he stresses.

SB 780 has the support of 45 groups including organizations representing Pennsylvania doctors and hospitals. But it is opposed by insurance companies.

Johnston-Walsh says by making health care more accessible, telemedicine could benefit health and save money.

“We believe and hospitals believe and doctors believe that this is better for patients because we will be able to catch things sooner, the costs will be lower and we’ll be able to treat people at a much earlier stage in their sickness,” he states.

Johnston-Walsh says telemedicine would help both consumers and insurers keep up with technological advances in health care.

But he notes time is running out. The House is scheduled to meet for only four more days before the session ends on Nov. 13.

“We’re hoping that it will pass within the next day or two,” he states. “There’s only several more legislative days left before they leave for the year. This bill is very important and it has to be voted on right now.”

PA State Special-Ed Funding Falls Far Behind Need

Published by:

Andrea Sears

PHILADELPHIA – Local school districts are picking up more and more of the costs of special education as state funding lags, according to a new report.

On average, the Education Law Center report said, the share of special-education funding that comes from local districts grew by 9 percent over eight years. For 53 of the state’s 500 districts, the increase was 20 percent or more.

Reynelle Brown Staley, policy attorney at the center, said the gap has been growing because the cost of special education has increased at a rate of about 5 percent every year.

“But state funding is increasing at roughly 1 percent per year,” she said, “and it’s simply not enough to meet the gap between what districts need and what students need to get the educational services that they are entitled to.”

Staley said now is the time for the state’s Special Education Funding Commission to review the funding system and demand prompt action from the Legislature.

Total spending for special education has grown by more than $1.5 billion since 2009, but state funding increased by only $72 million. Staley pointed out that when state and federal funds fall short, local districts need to make up the difference.

“They’re needing to look elsewhere in their budgets for funding, to raise taxes,” she said, “and in some cases, they’re having to cut services because there simply isn’t enough funding coming from the state.”

Local districts now put in almost $20 for every $1 in increased special-education funding that comes from the state.

A study eight years ago found a $2,000 gap between per-pupil spending and student needs. Staley said simply returning to that state funding level now would require spending increases of at least $100 million a year over several years.

“But we know, based on that 2009 costing-out study, that showed that districts were significantly underfunding special education, that the state needs to do even more than that to actually meet the needs of students with disabilities,” she said.

Staley said the special-education funding needs don’t even include an estimated $3 billion gap in basic education funding.

The study is online at elc-pa.org.

Pittsburgh Security Officers Win $15/Hour Contract

Published by:

Andrea Sears

PITTSBURGH – Security officers in Pittsburgh are celebrating a new contract that, for many, almost doubles the pay and benefits they were getting just a few years ago.

The agreement, announced in Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s conference room on Tuesday, covers more than 1,100 workers who protect most of the city’s iconic buildings, museums and universities.

Just three years ago, when they negotiated their first contract, said Sam Williamson, Western Pennsylvania district director for Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, some of these workers were making $8.50 an hour and had no employer-funded health insurance.

Now, their jobs include insurance, he said, and they’re moving toward a living wage.

“There’ll be continued significant wage increases that will raise the base or starting pay to $14.20 an hour over the course of the contract,” said Williamson, “and the average pay will be a little over $15 an hour by the end of the agreement.”

He said those raises will bring an additional $7 million over four years into low-income households in neighborhoods across Pittsburgh.

While politicians have claimed the economy has recovered from the devastation of the Great Recession, economists said most of the gains have gone to the top 1 percent of earners. Williamson pointed out that for the vast majority of Americans, wages and income have stagnated.

“Income inequality has continued to widen,” he said, “and the only exception to that is where workers are able to organize into unions and bargain collectively for the kinds of wage increases that they actually deserve.”

Williamson said many security workers still report having trouble affording food and difficulty paying monthly utility bills. He said the new contract will be a big step in turning that around.

“Between those wage investments, continued investment in health care that will make sure that people have access to really good-quality health insurance, and the introduction of paid sick days,” he said, “this agreement makes a huge improvement in over 1,000 Pittsburghers’ lives.”

32BJ SEIU is the largest union for security officers in the country.