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PA Departments of Health and Drug and Alcohol Programs Outline 2017–2018 Budget Needs; Make Case for Consolidation

March 01, 2017

Pennsylvania’s Physician General, Dr. Rachel Levine, and the Acting Secretary of the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), Jennifer Smith, joined Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health, Dr. Karen Murphy in providing testimony to the PA House Appropriations Committee yesterday afternoon. During the hearing, all three faced questions from members of the committee concerning the budget and other initiatives within the two departments.

Many of the questions centered around the Governor’s proposal to merge the Department of Human Service, the Department of Health, DDAP, and the Department of Aging. Members of the committee asked questions about the rationale for the change, expressed concern around the estimated savings associated with consolidation, and focused on the ability of DDAP to combat the opioid epidemic should the departments merge.

HAP continues to review the Governor’s proposal to consolidate these four agencies.

Secretary Murphy indicated that while realized savings of $9 million are included in the Governor’s 2017–2018 proposed budget, the improvement and streamlining of services will continue to be a work in progress. Secretary Murphy emphasized that consolidation is a priority for the Governor because he believes it is a better way for the commonwealth to provide the services currently offered by the four agencies. Both secretaries sought to reassure the committee that the Governor did not propose merging the departments simply for the sake of merging. They were equally clear that key services and programs administered by the two departments would not be lost in the shuffle.

Rep. Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks), used part of her time for questions to ask Sec. Murphy about the Department of Health’s work promoting greater use of telemedicine in the commonwealth. Sec. Murphy told the committee that the Department was heavily engaged with hospitals and other key stakeholders, and that this was a priority issue for her.

The ability of the commonwealth to effectively combat Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic was a focus of bi-partisan attention during the hearing. Members of the committee also voiced concern about how consolidation might affect treatment programs.

Both secretaries noted that addressing Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic and getting help for those affected by it, remains a top priority for the Governor, and DDAP will remain central to that effort. Secretary Smith also noted that DDAP alone has a gap in funding that would require taking funds from other sources. She also offered practical examples of how consolidation would allow her agency to be more efficient—consolidation would allow the departments to merge licensing and hiring processes.

Along a similar line of questioning, members inquired about the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). Last session, Act 191 of 2014 was amended to strengthen the PDMP, Secretary Murphy noted the immediate successes of the program. She drew particular attention to the fact that the system is getting 45,000 queries per day.

Finally, the recently implemented medical marijuana program was also top of mind for members of the committee. Legislators asked Secretary Murphy both timeline and process questions, including whether or not the Governor’s consolidation proposal would have any impact on the program. Secretary Murphy indicated 12 growers and processors and 27 dispensaries will be chosen in the first round of approvals that the Department will be doing in the near future. She also noted that chapters 19 and 20 of the regulations required for the medical marijuana program will be issued in the near future and in time for processors and growers to operate. Currently, the Department is operating under temporary regulations.

For additional information regarding yesterday’s budget hearing, please contact Stephanie Watkins, HAP’s vice-president state legislative advocacy or Scott Bishop, HAP’s senior vice-president legislative advocacy.

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