HARRISBURG – Looking forward to a post-pandemic Pennsylvania, the House Majority Policy Committee, chaired by Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron/McKean/Potter), convened a hearing at the Capitol Tuesday to discuss the impacts of regulatory waivers and suspensions implemented as a result of COVID-19.
The goal of the hearing was to assess which regulations could or should be eliminated for good, and which may need to be reinstated.
“With respect to our health care service providers, the No. 1 priority by far is not only continuing but expanding the ability to provide telemedicine services to best meet the ongoing needs of patients,” Causer said. “And from the standpoint of employers, resuming registration and work search requirements necessary to receive unemployment benefits is vital to rebuilding the workforce and allowing businesses to fully resume their operations.”
The committee heard from a variety of health care providers, including officials from hospitals, long-term care facilities, home care support, and drug and alcohol services. All agreed the array of regulatory waivers and suspensions were vital to their ability to meet patient and staffing needs during the pandemic. The ability to provide telemedicine and to be reimbursed for it at the same level as an in-person appointment is something they would like to see continue.
“The telehealth waivers granted during the COVID-19 pandemic were invaluable in this effort and have given WellSpan Health the flexibility to ensure our patients receive the right care, at the right time, in the right setting,” said Dr. David Vega, senior vice president and chief medical officer at WellSpan Health in York. “We ask you to seize this opportunity to retain this flexibility and innovation and to enhance Pennsylvania’s health care delivery system. I can assure you, these tools have helped us strengthen WellSpan Health’s commitment to providing our patients with the care they need – when, where and how they want it.”
Telemedicine has been equally important to serving people in need of drug and alcohol treatment.
“The changes in the regulations have improved access to treatment and the client
experience and have resulted in increased engagement in treatment driving better
outcomes for our clients,” said Charlotte Chew, vice president of operations for
outpatient services for Pyramid Healthcare. “From March of 2020 through March 2021, Pyramid had over 130,000 client activities in our outpatient programs; 64% of them were delivered
through telehealth. Telehealth has positively impacted three challenges to addiction treatment: access, engagement and retention.”
Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, took the opportunity to also share concerns about the consistent weight of regulations on his industry, testifying that long-term care is the second-most regulated industry in the entire United States, behind only nuclear power. He shared the struggles of long-term care facilities dealing with ever-changing directives from the administration and duplicative reporting.
“At the height of the pandemic, if you can believe it, long-term care providers were reporting to seven different databases on a daily or weekly basis,” he said. “They were inputting the same exact information every single day. One of the databases is required by 8 a.m. every single day. Yet each database had different definitions for the data. So how you were reporting something at the federal level was different than how you were reporting at the state level.”
The committee also heard from employers in various industry sectors about the ongoing challenges they face in filling vacancies necessary to fully resume their operations.
Ryan Bell, director of operations, and Bobbie Jones, human resources manager, for Webco Industries, a manufacturer of steel tubing products in Oil City, Venango County, shared their company’s experience of having to furlough workers last spring and then trying to recall them as their business picked back up by June. The company currently has more than 20 vacant positions.
“Our business owners are absolutely grateful, as we are, to have the employees that we do who are there helping us through this, but there aren’t enough hands to carry the load,” said Bell. “If we do not start to do something to get these people back to work and back into the workforce that we are going to see even more businesses failing in the process.”
Mary Malone, president of the Greater Hazleton Chamber of Commerce and vice chair of the Luzerne/Schuylkill Workforce Development Board, agreed.
“The halt on Pennsylvania Unemployment System work registration and work search requirements is now acting as an incentive for the workforce to not re-engage and continue the recovery processes,” she said. “We feel strongly that the current system is acting in reverse of its original intention. We have multiple employers with over 30 job openings and considering halting expansion plans for fear of not having a workforce to meet the demands of their customers. This is having ripple effects in the economic engine of our area both now and into the future. The current workforce is being fatigued by mandatory overtime and raises a health and safety concerns as the workforce shortage continues.”
Video of the full hearing and written testimony is available at PAGOPPolicy.com
Representative Martin T. Causer
House Majority Policy Committee Chairman
Pennsylvania House of Representatives