Lawmakers raise concerns that Pa. agency mergers will hurt health care

     In this Feb. 9, 2016, file photo, Gov. Tom Wolf, (center), delivers his budget address for the 2016-17 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate, as the speaker of the state House of Representatives, state Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, (left), and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, (right), listen at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. (Chris Knight/AP Photo, file)

    In this Feb. 9, 2016, file photo, Gov. Tom Wolf, (center), delivers his budget address for the 2016-17 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate, as the speaker of the state House of Representatives, state Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, (left), and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, (right), listen at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. (Chris Knight/AP Photo, file)

    One of the biggest changes proposed under Gov. Tom Wolf’s 2017-18 budget is consolidation of four major departments — Health, Aging, Drugs and Alcohol, and Human Services.

    An all-day hearing Tuesday delved into what the future of the agency will look like — and it wasn’t without some conflict.

    The beginning the Health and Human Service Department’s hearing was punctuated by chants from the hallway outside.

    A number of disabled members of the group ADAPT couldn’t enter because there was no space for their wheelchairs.

    Organizer German Parodi said, considering the looming state and federal changes facing the health care industry, they felt it was vital to be inside.

    “Things are changing fast, and they just are excluding people like myself who are the people being affected by these changes,” he said.

    The room was eventually rearranged to give the group access.

    Meanwhile, House members sparred over whether the consolidation will improve care, or create chaos.Rep. Mary Jo Daley, D-Montgomery and others were concerned smaller departments will lose power under the new system.

    “The aging department is a very small department compared to Human Services,” she said. “So people are concerned that issues relating to seniors are going to get lost.

    Human Services Secretary Ted Dallas reiterated the administration’s position.

    “I think what [Pennsylvanians] really want is for us to provide the best level of care we can with the least amount of bureaucracy we can,” he said. “I think that’s what the consolidation does.”

    Some GOP members also expressed concerns the administration doesn’t have a thorough plan to carry out the mergers.

    Much of the hearing was overshadowed by the new GOP health care overhaul moving through the federal government — with lawmakers unsure how it would affect the state’s responsibilities.

    Committee leaders instructed members to base their questions on current policy.

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