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Budget Hearings Take Center Stage

By Scot Chadwick

​The state House and Senate are on an extended recess, with the House scheduled to return to Harrisburg on March 30, and the Senate on April 13. There’s a good reason for the break, as the House and Senate Appropriations Committees are holding daily budget hearings, reviewing the spending proposals of various departments and state agencies.

It’s all part of a three-step process that began with Gov. Wolf’s first budget address earlier this month. These budget hearings are step two, where lawmakers have an opportunity to interrogate cabinet secretaries and agency heads in more detail about their spending plans for the coming fiscal year.

The process ends with the enactment of a new state budget, hopefully by the June 30 deadline. The Pennsylvania Medical Society (PAMED) follows these hearings closely, as they can be very revealing as to key policy decisions and initiatives that impact the practice of medicine.

Below is a list of key budget hearings that we’ll be attending, along with a sampling of issues we’ll be hoping to learn more about.

Thursday, March 12, House budget hearing 
Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) 
Gov. Wolf has proposed moving the medical student loan forgiveness program from the Department of Health to PHEAA, and wants to increase its funding to help more physicians.

Tuesday, March 17, House budget hearing
Department of Labor and Industry
We watch this one for a number of reasons, including any proposed changes to the workers compensation system.

Tuesday, March 17, House budget hearing
Department of Health/Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs

For obvious reasons, this one is a biggie.

Wednesday, March 18, Senate budget hearing 
Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs (DDAP)
We did a lot with DDAP last year, including creation of the new opioid prescribing guidelines. More good things are in the works.

Monday, March 23, House budget hearing
Department of Insurance
From health insurance to Mcare, the Insurance Department matters to physicians.

Monday, March 23, Senate budget hearing
Department of Health (DOH)
Among its many important tasks, DOH will house the new statewide controlled substances database. Funding has been a concern.

Tuesday, March 24, Senate budget hearing
Department of Insurance
We’re expecting a big decision from the Department this summer on the balance of primary and Mcare liability insurance physicians are required to carry.

Tuesday, March 24, House budget hearing
Department of State
The Department oversees the licensing of health care providers, including physicians.

Wednesday, March 25, House budget hearing
Department of Human Services
Renamed (formerly the Dept. of Public Welfare), the Department oversees the Medicaid program.

Thursday, March 26, Senate budgeting hearing
Department of Human Services
See above.

Thursday, March 26, Senate budget hearing
Department of State
See above.

Monday, March 30, Senate budget hearing
Department of Labor & Industry
See above.

These hearings are especially important in a new governor’s first year, as we are likely to see significantly different spending priorities from those of his predecessor. Based on Gov. Wolf’s budget address, that is definitely the case this year. As I said, we’ll  be following these hearings closely, and we’ll be sure to let you know when they reveal important developments affecting health care and the practice of medicine. 

As always, you can reach me with questions or comments at or (717) 558-7814.​

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