Health - November 15, 2012

Deadline for health insurance exchange looming for PA

The re-election of President Obama means that the Affordable Care Act is moving forward.  Pennsylvania has yet to put a health insurance exchange into place.  The move means legislation needs to be passed before an exchange can be implemented.  States have the option to run their own exchange, partner with the federal government, or allow the federal government to run the exchange.  The deadline to submit plans to the Department of Health and Human Services has been extended by from November 15 until December 14 for state-run plans and until February 15, 2013 for partnership exchanges. 

Governor Corbett is in no rush to make a decision on the exchange, though some legislators have sent him a letter asking him to move forward.  Rep. Tony DeLuca, Minority Chairman of the House Insurance committee, sent a letter signed by some Democratic members of the committee, urging the Governor to make a decision sooner rather than later.  Supporters of the exchange believe that exchanges offer people greater access to “quality, affordable, coverage” when it comes to health insurance.  Opponents suggest exchanges “raise prices and taxes” for consumers.  Governor Corbett has expressed his own concerns, along with the state government, about the overall cost to the state.  The federal government has offered a grant for “exchange-planning costs” and federal funding for costs through 2015.  After that the exchange must be self-funded.

Either way, at this stage, experts feel that Pennsylvania will move towards a partnership with the federal government at first and later may move to a state run exchange.  Including Pennsylvania, 19 states have yet to make any kind of decision.  Twelve states have opted for exchanges run by the federal government and the other 19 states will either partner with the federal government or run their own exchange. 


Turnpike announces all electronic toll plan

On Tuesday, Acting Turnpike Commission CEO, Craig Shuey, told legislators that the PA Turnpike Commission is moving ahead with its plans to replace toll booths on the entire stretch of turnpike and will be implementing a completely electronic system.  Drivers with E-ZPass will see no change; other drivers will have a photo of their license plate taken and a bill sent to them.  Studies show that more than half of the drivers on the turnpike are already using the electronic E-ZPass system.  The turnpike cites a cost savings of about $21 million a year in the long run; though the upfront cost of implementation is about $250 million.  Turnpike officials say besides costs the new system will save drivers time and cut down on emissions from cars idling in toll lines.  The flip side of the new system also means the elimination of toll workers all together, that’s a loss of 755 jobs in Pennsylvania.  Critics also wonder how well the technology works, noting that other states, like Florida, have had issues with the license plate reading technology.  Additional criticisms include the loss of toll booths where motorists could seek help if necessary and not knowing the actual cost to drive the turnpike when entering the roadway. 


American snack icon producer, going out of business

Hostess, the maker of Twinkies, is set to go out of business.  The reports that the company has asked a judge to allow them to go out of business and lay off workers.  The company, based in Irving, Texas, also produces Wonder bread, America’s first sliced bread. Hostess cited a labor strike by the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union for the permanent shut down.  Though the company has filed for bankruptcy twice in the last ten years and demand is diminishing in the snack food business.  Union representatives cite “unreasonable demands” which they say included 30% wage and benefit cuts to workers while executives took pay increases and poor financial management as the reason for the closing.  Hostess “plans to sell its assets to the highest bidders.”