By Tom Barnes
HARRISBURG -- A Montgomery County Democrat wants to create a new state bureaucracy to oversee health insurance issues, as a result of the recently approved federal law on health care, which contains certain deadlines by which states must act. But creating a new office in state government could be difficult to do, in light of the state’s burgeoning budget deficit.
Rep. Josh Shapiro, joined by several of his Democratic colleagues, including Reps. Frank Dermody of Oakmont and Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill, plus one Republican, Rep. Mark Mustio of Moon, today proposed creation of something called the "Health Insurance Reform Implementation Authority.’’
It would combine in one place some existing functions now handled by the departments of Public Welfare, Insurance and Health. He called it "one-stop shopping for residents’ health needs.’’
Mr. Shapiro insisted there would be little or no additional cost for the new agency, since it would transfer duties now being done in those other departments. But there is likely to be skepticism among some lawmakers, especially Republicans.
"The fact that House Democrats believe an entirely new layer of bureaucracy is needed to implement the federal health care plan shows just how extraordinarily expensive it will for Pennsylvania taxpayers," said Erik Arneson, policy director forSenate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi.
Mr. Shapiro said that under the new federal law, each state must develop, by July, "high-risk pools’’ of people who need insurance, and must create an office of consumer advocate by October. The new agency would do those jobs and take over administration of Medicaid, Adult Basic (an insurance program for adults) and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Mr. Shapiro hopes his proposed new agency could be ready by this summer, but it would have to be created with unusual speed by the Legislature, which often takes considerable time to act on major issues.