Officials: New state Department of Health, Human Services would save $90 million
February 8, 2017 12:00 AM
Matt Rourke/Associated Press
Senate leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, speaks Tuesday in Harrisburg.
By Kate Giammarise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration estimates about $90 million in budget savings from merging four cabinet agencies into a Department of Health and Human Services, state officials said Tuesday.
Much of the savings, about $45 million, in Mr. Wolf’s plan to combine the Departments of Health, Aging, Drug and Alcohol Programs and the Department of Human Services would come from the consolidation of several programs across agencies that purchase, dispense or monitor prescription drugs, budget secretary Randy Albright said Tuesday.
State officials also have emphasized they believe the benefits of such an agency would be better managed and more streamlined services, as well as financial savings.
The plan would need to be approved by the Legislature. Mr. Albright said the governor’s proposal assumes the new, unified agency would be in place as of July 1.
Of the existing agencies, Department of Human Services is by far the largest, with more than 17,000 workers. The Department of Health has more than 1,200, while the Department of Aging has 93 and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs has 69, according recent administration tallies.
Also as part of the consolidation, the governor proposed reducing the number of brick-and-mortar state health centers — there are currently 55 — and relocating community health nurses into other existing spaces such as local health departments or county assistance offices, for a savings of $15 million.
Mr. Wolf’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, had tried to close nearly half the state’s rural health centers in 2013. That plan was halted by a lawsuit brought by the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Pennsylvania, which represents the nurses at the centers, as well as several Democratic lawmakers who were part of the lawsuit. The case centered around a 1996 law that said the state could not reduce the number of health centers below a certain level without the approval of the legislature. In 2014, the Supreme Court agreed with the union and the lawmakers.
Health Secretary Karen Murphy declined to say on Tuesday how many centers would be closed under the governor’s plan, but said her agency would work with legislators.
Mr. Wolf’s budget address Tuesday struck a more conciliatory tone than his previous two proposals, and highlighted planned cuts and consolidations more than in the past.
Kate Giammarise: email@example.com or 412-263-3909 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.
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