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Pa. short-staffed with Medicaid at risk for thousands

Plus, Dems’ state House majority on the line in Delaware County.

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Your Postmaster: Spotlight PA Staff
Monday, April 3, 2023
🏆  TEST TIME: If you're confident you followed the news closely last week, there's only one way to prove it: Put your knowledge to the test with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz.
Health concerns, 'eye-popping' salaries, majority rule, indictment critics, health impacts, budget questions, and beachfront property. Welcome to the week.
The offices that help Pennsylvanians keep their Medicaid benefits are facing persistent vacancies and a heavy workload at a critical time for the program, creating what one expert deems a "terrifying" staffing situation. 

Like every state, Pennsylvania is reassessing who qualifies for Medicaid following the sunsetting of a federal policy that ensured no one was kicked off the program during the COVID-19 public health emergency. 

The Shapiro administration estimates hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians will be disenrolled because they no longer meet eligibility requirements. Advocates for health care access fear shortages of state support staff mean thousands more could wrongly lose coverage.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Pa. faces a shortage of benefits workers as health coverage for thousands is on the line.

THE CONTEXT: The responsibility for assessing Medicaid recipients' eligibility and reenrolling people in the program primarily lies with caseworkers for the state Department of Human Services' county assistance offices (CAOs), statewide processing centers, and call centers.

The department characterized the vacancy rate in its offices as only "slightly higher than average" and "in line with what other human services employers have experienced over the course of the pandemic."

Advocacy groups say offices are about 91% staffed statewide and about 86% staffed in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, two areas of high demand.

Patrick Keenan, a policy director for Pennsylvania Health Access Network, called capacity issues at this juncture a "terrifying" prospect, adding that the true impact on the uninsured rate may not be known for months.

Reenrollment began this month and will continue on a rolling basis. CNN reports Pennsylvania disenrollments are set to begin in May

"And the whole thing about depression is that, objectively, you may have won, but depression can absolutely convince you that you actually lost."

—U.S. Sen. John  Fetterman (D., Pa.) describing his experience with clinical depression; Fetterman is set to return to the Senate the week of April 17
» How Spotlight PA will cover Pa.'s 2023 primary election

» A guide to Commonwealth, Superior Court candidates

» A guide to the Pa. Supreme Court candidates

» Court decision does little to clear up ballot curing confusion

» Why independents can't vote in Pa. primaries (Spotlight PA archives)

» How unequal policies disenfranchised Pa. voters in 2022

» Register to vote in the May 16 primary here; deadline May 1

» Request your mail ballot for the May 16 primary; deadline May 9

Support Spotlight PA's public-service election and voting coverage now. Become a sustaining monthly donor and get your gift matched 12X! 
Ithan Valley Park in Delaware County, via Don N. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A small waterfall and rocky wall.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.EXECUTIVE PAY: The nonprofit status of monied hospital networks is facing renewed scrutiny from Pittsburgh to Pottstown, where a judge citing "eye-popping" executive salaries and bonuses recently revoked a Tower Health hospital's nonprofit property-tax exemption. Against this backdrop, Spotlight PA compiled a list of executive salaries and bonuses at facilities across north-central Pennsylvania.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.ON THE LINE: The Inquirer (paywall) reports Democrats' one-seat state House majority is on the line in the race to replace resigned state Rep. Mike Zabel (D., Delaware). Democrat Heather Boyd is favored to win over Republican Katie Ford, but Gillian McGoldrick writes that the GOP is looking to capitalize on questions about how Democrats handled the 2019 misconduct allegation that led to Zabel stepping down.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.RALLY ROUND: Former President Donald Trump's 2024 primary poll numbers have never been higher among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents following his indictment over a hush money scheme. In Pennsylvania, elected and aspiring GOP officials are coalescing around him too. Even Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a 2024 rival, joined critics of the charges in Camp Hill Saturday.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.SICK DAYS: Seven federal investigators fell ill while studying the health impacts of February's toxic train derailment in Ohio, CNN reports, with symptoms — sore throats, headaches, coughing, and nausea – that mirrored what some residents experienced. Pennsylvania's Blackhawk School District and the U.S. Department of Justice are both suing Norfolk Southern over the crash.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.BUDGET ASK: Pennsylvania's Department of State wants $14 million more this budget season, much of it to improve the processing of voter registrations and the licensing of nurses, teachers, and other professionals. Capital-Star reports that in a hearing last week, Acting Secretary of State Al Schmidt was pressed on the timeline and whether the added money is enough to truly fix entrenched issues

EARLY WARNING: A survivor of the deadly West Reading chocolate factory explosion recalled smelling a strong odor of gas 30 minutes before the explosion but said the plant was not evacuated, AP reports.

BAR FIGHT: WPXI-TV reports former Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was involved in an altercation Saturday outside of a Shadyside bar he's known to frequent. Police were called. It's unclear if charges will be pressed.

POPULATION LOSS: Pennsylvania's two biggest counties got smaller in 2022. Philadelphia's population dropped for a second year in a row, while Allegheny County saw the 10th largest decline in the country.

TITLE IX: Months after a judge ordered the State College Area School District to include female players on an ice hockey team, CDT (paywall) reports the secondary squad saw no games, no jerseys, and no banquet.

PA COAST: On the heels of an inconclusive Twitter debate about Pennsylvania's landlocked status, the commonwealth's official Twitter account decided to settle the whole thing by surgically removing New Jersey.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

Friday's answer: Immaterial

Congrats to our weekly winner: Jim A.

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan D., Craig W., Kimberly D., Don H., Lynne E., Barbara F., Becky C., Susan N.-Z., Dan A., Ted W., Fran B., Jane R., Jon W., Kim C., Nancy S., William Z., Dennis M., Daniel M., Starr B., Bill S., Vicki U., Ada M., Sarah B., Wendy A., Elaine C., Eric F., Tom M., and Irene R.
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