Squabble over Universal Care Threatens Pa. Cost-Control Panel

Published February 1, 2009

A valued Pennsylvania council faces dissolution in June if Gov. Ed Rendell (D) and some members of the state Senate don’t resolve a standoff over the direction of health care in the Keystone State.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council, known as PHC4, is responsible for collecting records on hospital visits and outpatient procedures. It uses that data to advise the state government on health care access and cost and quality issues.

Bargaining Chip in Standoff

PHC4’s status has been a bargaining chip in the standoff between Rendell and some members of the Pennsylvania state Senate over the governor’s efforts to overhaul the state’s health care system.

The confrontation centers on Rendell’s demand the state legislature pass a bill he supports to provide “affordable health care” to more than 800,000 uninsured state residents.

Rendell has threatened to veto every health care-related bill the legislature passes until it acts on his proposal, even though doing so may mean allowing a popular malpractice subsidy, the Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error (MCARE) abatement program, to expire. Pennsylvania health care providers would face a heightened risk of bankruptcy through malpractice suits.

Last June the legislature passed a bill temporarily extending PHC4’s mandate, but Rendell vetoed it since it did not include legislative approval of his health care proposal.

Second Extension in Six Months

Rendell issued an executive order on November 27 extending PHC4’s mandate through June 30, 2009.

“PHC4 has been responsible for a lot of very, very important advances in the health care delivery system,” said Rendell in a news conference announcing the extension. “I have the power to extend their lifespan, and I did just that.”

Rendell’s executive order extending PHC4 prevented the council from being decommissioned on December 1, 2008.

The extension was the second Rendell has granted the council. After laying off 38 of the board’s 44 members last July 1 in an effort to force the legislature to pass his health care proposal, he reinstated them less than a week later through an executive order on July 8, keeping the council afloat for another five months.

In his latest executive order, which unilaterally authorized a continuation of funding for PHC4, Rendell stipulated the council should cut its $5.3 million budget by 4 percent, in keeping with statewide cuts resulting from a budget shortfall, state officials said.

Positive Development

“Pennsylvania’s Cost Containment Council has done a good job of increasing transparency in the state’s health care system,” said Greg Scandlen, director of Consumers for Health Care Choices at The Heartland Institute. “It does a very good job providing valuable information for people who are interested in comparing hospital-by-hospital prices for different procedures and services.”

Despite its name, “it does nothing to contain taxpayer costs,” Scandlen said. “However, even though the service it performs is different from its stated mission, it is a valuable resource for Pennsylvanians interested in making more-informed decisions about their health care.”

Joe Emanuel ([email protected]) writes from Georgia.

For more information …

“Pa. Health Board Fired, Rehired,” by Krystle Russin, Health Care News, September 2008: http://www.heartland.org/publications/health%20care/article.html?articleid=23707