Wolf consolidation plan on table in budget talks

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch
  • The departments of Aging and Drug and Alcohol Programs will continue to operate as their own entities.
  • Director of the York County Area Agency on Aging Mark Shea: said. "Right now it does not look like there will be much of an impact for us."

As a $32 billion unbalanced state budget languishes in Harrisburg, the state's health departments continue to wait to find out how they will be affected. 

Gov. Tom Wolf earlier this year proposed a consolidation plan he said would reduce duplication, minimize confusion, save taxpayers money and streamline services. The plan included a consolidation of the departments of Aging, Alcohol and Drug Programs, Health and Human Services.

Departments merging under the 2017-18 budget are Health and Human Services into one state Dept. of Health and Human Services. The departments of Aging and Alcohol and Drug Programs could continue to stand alone.

"That is the mutual understanding we had when the spending bill was passed," Wolf's spokesman J.J. Abbott said. 

Gov. Tom Wolf allowed the state budget to become law without a signature, and now Pennsylvania lawmakers are trying to figure out how to fund it. Submitted/photo

Budget Impact: Observers say it could take a few weeks to a few months to agree on how the state budget is going to be financed.

Mark Shea, director of the York County Area Agency on Aging, said he's anticipating not much of a change to his annual bottom line once the budget is finally funded. 

Mark Shea, director of the York County Area Agency on Aging

"The spending plan that was passed should provide us with the same basic funding level as last year," Shea said. "Lottery dollars will be released to the Department of Aging, and they in turn send us our payments. Our annual budget is right around $10 million."  

Talks over Pennsylvania budget deadlock take unexpected turn

Shea said York County is experiencing "tremendous growth in the older adult population," which makes him relieved if Aging ultimately is not part of consolidation. 

There are 98,000 residents in York County over the age of 60, he said. 

Moving forward, Shea added, if any "efficiences" can be gained by sharing information technology or human resources staff, he doesn't "see a problem with it."

The big question, he said, is how everything is going to be funded. 

Annual savings: Wolf's proposed merger was estimated to save taxpayers about $95 million annually, in addition to providing more efficient services, Abbott said. 

"We continue to negotiate with the General Assembly on the remaining pieces of the budget that they have yet to complete, including the governor's proposal to unify agencies to improve service delivery and create efficiencies," he said. 

Rep. Gene Digirolamo, R-Bucks County, who spearheaded creation of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, said "until it actually happens, that's when it really happens." 

Digirolamo said he hasn't heard anything from the governor's office about the final steps of the budget deal. He said members of the House and Senate are saying the same thing: "They are not going to be consolidating the departments of Aging and Drug and Alcohol." 

Advocates wary of 'massive overhaul' planned for state services

New Director: Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, who does not support the idea of consolidating four health departments into one department, said he would rather see lawmakers approve a new position: Office of Independent Medical Assistance Director. 

Rep. Seth Grove is shown during an interview at his office in West Manchester Township, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016.

Grove drafted a bill that would create the director's role, which he said is focused on increasing transparency. He explained House Bill 1354 would require the director to post an updated monthly report of Medicaid enrollees; costs and a cost analysis to compare budget funds and forecasted expenses.

Also, the director would be required to present a mid-year review to the House and Senate Appropriations committees. 

Grove said the existing Department of Human Services has so far this year overspent its $11.5 billion budget by more than $200 million.The department's annual budget is expected to "escalate by $3.8 billion over the next five fiscal years," he added. 

Creating a new director to oversee department finances, he said, is an "innovative" approach to make sure the state's most vulnerable receive their health care services.