Onorato's target: Curbing health care costs in state
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If elected governor in two weeks, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato says he intends to implement the coming health care overhaul with a special focus on containing health care costs.
During his nearly seven years as county executive, Mr. Onorato said, the cost of providing health care for the county's 7,000 employees jumped from $35 million annually to $65 million.
That meant the county had $30 million less to spend on roads, parks and other programs, he said. "We can't sustain this kind of increase every year."
It's also put a burden on workers, he said, as "health care premiums are eating up any pay increases."
On top of that, he added, workers face higher deductibles and co-payments for lower levels of coverage.
Mr. Onorato was keynote speaker at a public forum at Allegheny General Hospital Wednesday on the subject of health care reform. His Republican opponent in the governor's race, Tom Corbett, was unable to attend due to a schedule conflict.
Mr. Corbett, too, has spoken out strongly about the need to make health care more affordable, but one key difference is that Mr. Corbett wants to enact tort reform by capping non-economic damages for medical malpractice lawsuits.
Mr. Onorato said he opposes caps because it shifts the burden to the victims.
Mr. Corbett, the state attorney general, has joined attorneys general from 12 other states in filing a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the health care reform legislation.
Mr. Onorato said he has visited the state's major medical centers and talked to top health system officials, heard many suggestions for improving health care in Pennsylvania, "but there's absolutely no consensus in Pennsylvania on how to fix this."
He said the state has special challenges, in part because of its 4 million residents living in rural areas -- the highest rural population of any state -- who may not have easy access to care. At the same time, some urban centers are closing.
While supportive of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, Mr. Onorato said the new law is not perfect, and specifically he was concerned it needs to more fully address the issue of rising health care costs.
But when pressed by an audience member about how he would cut costs, Mr. Onorato replied, "I wish I knew what's driving the costs up," noting that insurers, doctors and attorneys each blame the others.
"If we can figure this out, maybe Pennsylvania can be a leader for lowering costs," he said.
First Published October 21, 2010 12:00 am