State calls for release of federal funds to help with health-care enrollments

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]
Capitol Roundup -

WILKES-BARRE — Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman this week sent a letter to the Trump Administration, urging immediate release of funding details for the Navigator program for the 2019 Affordable Care Act open enrollment period. The organizations which coordinate helping Pennsylvanians sign up for health coverage need the information to plan their outreach efforts.

The Navigator program funds nonprofit entities and health care organizations to assist Pennsylvanians when searching, shopping for, and enrolling in health insurance coverage.

“As any business leader knows, for a program to succeed it must have guidance and stability. Guidance and stability allow an organization to effectively plan for their short-term and long-term futures,” Altman wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) head Seema Verma. “Currently, the Navigator program and the entities that currently operate as navigators have not received guidance or stability from the federal government.”

As of now, the Trump Administration has not issued a formal call for grant applications or released funding details for the 2019 open enrollment period, which is set to run from Nov. 1 through Dec. 15. Altman noted in years past, CMS released grant applications and new funding opportunities for the Navigator program in April, and had approved funding by August.

Altman said the Wolf Administration’s top priority is to ensure Pennsylvanians have access to affordable health insurance options. She said the federal government created the Navigator program to provide outreach, education and enrollment assistance, and navigators have become an integral part of Pennsylvania’s health insurance marketplace.

When this funding cut was announced, along with a 90 percent reduction in advertising by the federal government and the decision to cut the enrollment period in half, Gov. Wolf directed the Insurance Department to take action to make sure Pennsylvanians still knew about the open enrollment period, what health plan options they had, and how to enroll. The efforts resulted in 396,000 Pennsylvanians signing up for coverage last year, only a slight drop from 2016 sign-ups.

Further signs that Pennsylvania’s ACA market is stabilizing include an aggregate, statewide rate increase for individual plans of only 4.9 percent filed in late May by the five insurers who are again planning to provide coverage across the state. The filings also show there will be more insurers offering plans in 31 of the state’s 67 counties compared to 2018, and the number of counties with just one insurer offering plans will drop from 20 to eight.

Sen. Toomey applauds

‘Pass the Trash’ ban

On June 27, the U.S. Department of Education sent a letter to all 50 states reminding them of their obligation to comply with a critical provision of the Every Student Succeeds Act authored by Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley. The provision prohibits schools receiving federal funds from helping known child molesters on staff obtain a job at another school. This horrifying practice is known as “passing the trash.”

Although several states — including Pennsylvania — have enacted laws prohibiting the practice, not all have. The letter sent by the Department of Education reminds states of their obligation to comply with federal law, offers technical assistance to states, and warns states that failure to comply may result in the Department of Education taking enforcement action.

“Outlawing the despicable practice of passing the trash was a huge victory for children and parents nationwide,” Toomey said in a press release. “I applaud the leadership and staff of the Department of Education for working to seriously enforce this critical measure and protect kids from pedophiles in schools.”

Barletta: $25M available

to help with school security

This week, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, commended the U.S. Department of Justice’s announcement that the 2018 School Violence Prevention Program is now accepting applications for funding to improve school security.

The School Violence Prevention Program is administered by DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Office and was authorized by the STOP School Violence Act, which Barletta co-sponsored and voted for, and was signed into law on March 23, 2018.

Last month, Barletta sent a letter urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to issue guidance to states and localities on how to apply for school security grant funds. The letter also requested that the Attorney General ensure that this money, which was authorized and appropriated by Congress earlier this year, gets out the door as quickly as possible so that schools can begin to implement security measures.

The School Violence Prevention Program can be used for up to 75 percent of the funding for the following school safety measures: metal detectors, locks, and other deterrent measures; training for local law enforcement to prevent student violence against others and themselves; technology to notify law enforcement during an emergency; and any other measure that the COPS Office determines will significantly improve security. Up to $25 million is available through this year’s School Violence Prevention Program, and the application period for those funds is open until July 30.

Life Policy Finder

has recovered $9.6M

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman this week applauded Gov. Tom Wolf’s signing of House Bill 152, now Act 48, that requires life insurers to participate in the Life Policy Finder Program. The program helps beneficiaries receive benefits from life insurance policies that may have been lost over time.

“This program, currently run by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, is proving valuable for Pennsylvanians. Since the program’s inception in November 2016, it has recovered $9,611,164 in life insurance benefits for 1,092 Pennsylvanian beneficiaries,” Altman said in a press release.

While Pennsylvania is already participating, Altman said the legislation is important because it puts in statute that all insurers with life policies or annuities in Pennsylvania must be part of the program, which is currently voluntary.

The Insurance Department receives numerous requests every year from individuals who believe a deceased family member or other loved one had a life insurance policy, but that policy cannot be located. A common scenario is that a parent purchased and fully paid for a policy years or even decades ago, meaning there has been no correspondence with the insurer for a long period of time, and the policy itself has been lost.

Under this law, any insurer selling life insurance policies or annuities must provide the Insurance Department with an email address so the department can send requests to search for a policy.

Capitol Roundup Roundup

By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.