Lottery Lawsuit Filed in Commonwealth Court

Union officials are mounting a legal challenge to the potential deal to privatize the management of the Pennsylvania Lottery.  “We feel that based on the Lottery Act passed in 1971… the privatization of the Lottery is not something the governor has exclusive jurisdiction to do.  We feel that legislative action has to be taken also,” explains AFSCME Council 13 Executive Director David Fillman, who points out that the General Assembly is currently between sessions. 

Several Lottery workers and Democratic state lawmakers have joined AFSCME in the effort to permanently block Governor Tom Corbett from entering into a deal that turns Lottery management over to a private entity.  Fillman says the Lottery is working well for government, and does not need to be privatized.    

A 20-year, $34-billion dollar bid from Camelot Global Services is currently under review, with a December 31st deadline fast approaching. 

“This is a frivolous lawsuit that’s looking out for the special interests of a union, rather than what the governor is trying to do, which is look out for the best interest of Pennsylvania’s senior citizens,” Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley tells Radio PA. 

Harley says the only reason privatization of Lottery management is being explored is to ensure revenue growth for the programs that benefit older Pennsylvanians.  He says no decision has been made.

Electoral College Vote Makes Presidential Election Official

It was a scene being played out across the country as Pennsylvania’s presidential electors cast their ballots Monday for President and Vice President in Harrisburg.   The 57th Electoral College of Pennsylvania met at noon in the chambers of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. The outcome was expected; the 20 electors cast their ballots for President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.

Clifford Levine, who served as president of the electoral session, explained why it was important. He told the electors and tellers that they were honoring the votes of a broad and diverse electorate, the aspirations of our founding fathers and the sacrifice of those who marched in our streets and fought in our wars to secure the right to vote.

Governor Corbett added that the gathering bears witness to the genius of our founders and enduring qualities of our national union.    He says the president exemplifies our national values and becomes in many ways a personification of America among other countries.

President Obama and his running mate defeated Republican Challenger Mitt Romney by about 310 thousand votes in the November 6th election in Pennsylvania.

Report: Insurance Costs Outpace Income Growth

The story is the same in all 50-states; the rising cost of employer-sponsored health insurance has dwarfed income growth over the past eight years.  A new study from the Commonwealth Fund crunches the numbers from 2003 – 2011. 

In Pennsylvania, the report pegs the combined cost for a family plan at $15,000, which is right at the national average.  “It’s an increase of 65% in just eight years,” explains Senior Vice President Cathy Schoen, who says Pennsylvanians’ median income increased only 13% over that same period.   

If trends continue at this rate the report indicates that Pennsylvania is on its way to a nearly $25,000 a year family premium by the year 2020. 

Schoen, however, believes the Affordable Care Act will slow the growth of health insurance and health care costs.  “Taking even 1% off the trend makes a real difference,” Schoen says, “By 2020 it would mean – in Pennsylvania — $2,000 more on the table for families in terms of wages or employers investing in jobs.”        

The Commonwealth Fund report is being released as governors across the nation are deciding whether to create state-based health insurance exchanges for individuals and small businesses to purchase insurance.  Pennsylvania, like 27 other states, will rely on the federal government to run its marketplace.

RadioPA Roundtable

Radio PA Roundtable 12.14.12

On this week’s Radio PA Roundtable, Brad Christman and Matt Paul break down Governor Tom Corbett’s big decision on a health care exchange and look ahead to possible Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.  Also, Matt speaks with US Seantor Bob Casey about the gift card regulations he’s pushing this holiday season.

Radio PA Roundtable is a 30-minute program featuring in-depth reporting on the top news stories of the week.

Click the audio player below to hear the full broadcast:


Holiday Season is also Start of Fire Season

Most house fires in the  United States occur between December and February according to the National Fire Protection Association and the holiday season bring additional risks.

It’s not just that broken string of lights, unattended candle or dried out Christmas tree that can increase the risk of house fires. Routine activities coupled with the busy distractions of the holiday season can also pose a risk. Lorraine Carli, Vice President for Communications at the National Fire Protection Association, says cooking is the leading cause of home fires.  She says most happen when cooking is left unattended.  She says people can become more distracted around the holidays with more visitors or phone calls.

Carli adds that other heat sources including   wood burning stoves, fire places and space heaters can also raise your risk of fire unless they’re in good working order and used properly.

Property losses from Christmas tree fires have been on the increase and candle-related fires have caused dozens of deaths and millions in damage since 2008. Carli says live trees must be watered frequently and holiday lights should be checked for damage. About one third of tree fires are caused by electrical problems.

Will PA Take Medicaid Expansion Option?

Governor Tom Corbett has already decided against a state-based insurance exchange under the Affordable Care Act, but he’s still mulling whether to take an option to expand Medicaid.  The federal health care law expanded Medicaid to cover people up to 138% of the federal poverty line, but the courts have since made in optional for the states.

The federal government would pick up the vast majority of the tab, and state Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia) is urging the governor to opt-in.  “That is a $4-billion dollar windfall for the people of Pennsylvania.  That’s $4-billion dollars of new investment in our health care network across the Commonwealth,” Hughes tells reporters.

Supporters say it will ensure health care coverage for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, save on uncompensated care costs and stimulate the economy.  Critics say it will financially burden the Commonwealth, and question how the federal government can truly fund its share of such a massive Medicaid expansion when it’s $16-trillion dollars in debt. 

In a statement, Governor Tom Corbett said he will continue to seek guidance from the US Department of Health and Human Services on the costs, impacts and flexibility involved in the state’s options.

Flu Season Arrives in Pennsylvania

Flu season has made an earlier than usual arrival in Pennsylvania.  The  State Health Department says the number of cases has doubled in the last week.  The state is reporting widespread flu activity.

The state is also seeing more Type A influenza H3N2 cases, which are often linked to more severe flu seasons.  It is also associated with more complications from flu. Health officials are encouraging people to get a flu shot.  They say it’s not too late.  However, it takes 10 to 14 days for the vaccination to reach its full protective effect.

People with flu symptoms should consult with their physician. Anti-viral medications can reduce the severity of the flu, but their effectiveness depends on how soon they’re given after symptoms begin.

Usually, Pennsylvania does not see this amount of flu activity until after the holiday season. People are encouraged to practice good hygiene habits, such as hand washing, when attending holiday get togethers to help avoid the spread of the flu.


Corbett Passes on State-Run Health Insurance Exchange

With too many unanswered questions about the cost and regulation, Governor Corbett has decided not to pursue a state-based health insurance exchange.  Insurance Commissioner Michael Consedine calls it the best decision under the circumstances.  “What we’ve been finding out, as we’ve been going through this process and learning more information, is that the level of control and autonomy and flexibility that we thought we would have in a state exchange may not be there,” Consedine explains. 

The grassroots group Americans for Prosperity has been working the phones to lobby the administration and legislature on this issue all year, and state director Jennifer Stefano calls it the right move for the taxpayers.  “You have no control… but by the way – hey taxpayers – along with the 21 other taxes in Obamacare, you’re now going to pay for it,” she says in explaining the grassroots group’s stance on the exchange. 

While the governor’s decision comes as a disappointment to the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, director Antoinette Kraus is focused on the positive.  “Even though Governor Corbett has decided not to move forward with the state-based exchange, folks will still be able to access health insurance on January 1st, 2014, and that’s a good thing for working families and small businesses here in Pennsylvania,” she tells Radio PA. 

Kraus was referring to the fact that the federal government will now assume the responsibility of running Pennsylvania’s health insurance marketplace, under the Affordable Care Act.  PA is one of 28 states to allow the feds to run its exchange.  These states will still be allowed to opt-in at a later date.

Report Examines the State of Child Welfare

Fewer Pennsylvania children are entering the foster care system, and the total number of foster youth in PA is on the decline, according to the 2012 State of Child Welfare report.  “This a very important statistic,” says Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children President & CEO Joan Benso.  “Children who live in foster care don’t experience the same life outcomes as children who live consistently in families.  They tend to have poorer education outcomes; they’re more likely to be teen parents or involved in crime.” 

However she sees more work that needs to be done when it comes to permanent placements and stability for the 22,000 children who are in the state’s foster care system.  For instance, 35% of children who were in foster care for 12 – 23 months had been in three or more placement settings.    

Also, the report finds that 21% of PA’s foster youth live in institutional care.  “We’re encouraged that action will be taken on that in the next year, but that number needs to continue to go down.  We have a very high rate for children living in congregate care, and much higher than other states.”

This report comes in advance of a legislative session in which the General Assembly is expected to take up the recommendations of the Task Force on Child Protection, and it cautions that protecting children should not be simplified to a numbers game that leads to a false sense of accomplishment.

Highway Deaths Hit 62 Year Low Nationally, but Some Categories Increase

Nationally, traffic deaths dropped almost 2% in 2011 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the number of deaths involving bicyclists rose nearly 9 percent and there was a 20% jump in deaths of occupants of large trucks.

Erin Waters of PennDOT says Pennsylvania did not follow those trends. Deaths of drivers and passengers in heavy trucks held about steady.  Deaths of bicyclists fell by over 50% from 2010 to 2011. This was before the new law requiring drivers to give bike riders a wider berth when passing them took effect.

The overall number of traffic deaths dropped nearly 3% in Pennsylvania from 2010 to 2011. But the state actually hit its lowest level in 2009.  Nationally, the number of highway deaths was at its lowest level in 62 years in 2011.