Key Takeaways from House Appropriations Hearings
HARRISBURG – Today the House Appropriations Committee held its seventh day of budget hearings. The committee heard from the Department of Health (DOH) and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP):

The governor’s budget includes $5 million for gene therapy research but provides no details:
On Page 145 of DOH’s hearing materials, the only information provided is one sentence.  “This appropriation provides funding for gene and immunotherapy research to develop targeted cancer therapies and position Pennsylvania as an international leader in the growing area of pioneering research.”  That’s it.
When asked by Rep. Lou Schmidt (R-Blair) for more information, Acting Health Secretary Keara Klinepeter didn’t have any and essentially admitted it was added by the governor’s office and not DOH.  After multiple attempts by Schmidt to elicit more details, Klinepeter just gave up.
This just another example of the governor’s budget being filled with talking points rather than serious policy proposals.  Watch the exchange here.

DOH is proposing to increase the minimum number of direct care staffing hours from 2.7 to 4.1 hours per day in nursing homes, yet can’t quantify the cost during budget hearings:
Despite President Joseph Biden’s announcement that the federal government may look at enacting staffing ratios, DOH plans to plow ahead with its own regulations.
The only public cost estimate for the Medicaid program, which was based on January 2020 data, estimates a cost of $386 million.  When asked by Rep. Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) if there is an updated estimate given the inflationary conditions we are under, DOH said the costs will be significant, but surprisingly no one had the number with them. Owlett expressed frustration. Watch the exchange here.

DDAP withheld clarification regarding federal funding usage for medical marijuana for treating substance use or mental disorders for 17 months:
A recent article by SpotlightPA highlighted concerns raised by family members that clarification that could have saved lives was withheld from Single County Authorities (SCAs) for 17 months.
DDAP Secretary Jennifer Smith told Rep. John Lawrence (R-Chester) that there was no way for them to inform SCAs of the change as they didn’t “have it on SAMHSA letterhead.”  Watch the exchange here.

Rep. Stan Saylor, Chairman
House Appropriations Committee
Pennsylvania House of Representatives