Burns, Davidson introduce legislation to stop medical transport changes

Bill would protect vulnerable residents, local transit agencies

HARRISBURG, Oct. 30 – Life-sustaining medical transportation would be kept in the hands of local providers, alleviating confusion for riders and instability for transit agencies, under legislation introduced by state Reps. Frank Burns and Margo Davidson.

House Bill 2008 would remove a mandate in state law that requires public transit services for Medical Assistance recipients to shift to a regional or statewide contractor. Local transit agencies currently provide this transportation along with other shared rides and subsidized transportation options.

Burns, D-Cambria, and Davidson, D-Delaware, noted that outsourcing to a third-party contractor adds a layer of bureaucracy and unnecessary confusion for users. Taking these trips out of local hands also creates financial strain for already cash-strapped transit agencies.

“For nearly 40 years, these rides have been coordinated by local transit authorities who know their riders and their needs. We refuse to allow the state to tear apart a system that works, just because some bureaucrats believe they can save money,” said Burns. “Without our bill, local agencies would be forced to increase rates while cutting services and hours of operation. This would be devastating to residents in Cambria County and across the state who rely on these services.”

“I want to thank Representative Burns for his leadership and partnership on this important legislation to assist our most physically and financially vulnerable citizens,” Davidson said. “People on Medical Assistance need this reliable transportation system to stay in place because they literally can’t afford to have a disruption in services, rider confusion, and possible cost-increases. A one-size-fits-all approach will fail and poses potential harm to our Medical Assistance recipients if they can’t get to necessary medical appointments. DHS’s plan might save the state money in the short term, but I believe the possible physical and psychological costs on the people who depend on the system will render those cost savings obsolete. Let’s remember, the primary goal here is to make sure that sick and financially vulnerable people get better. That’s the bottom line. And that’s why I’ve joined with Representative Burns on this law to ensure our Medical Assistance recipients retain their local transit rides and the life-preserving mobility that it provides.”

Sensing a problem with the mandated changes back in June, lawmakers voted to suspend the mandate until a six-month study assessing the impacts was completed. However, the Department of Human Services said this week that it believes current law requires moving forward with the switch upon completion of the study in December, regardless of the findings or legislative input.

“Our legislation is the only sure way to keep the department in check and prevent another layer of government that will only confuse citizens further,” Burns said.

Burns added that DHS’s argument that such a change would save the state money is questionable. The Pennsylvania Public Transportation Association has testified that a similar plan enacted in Texas led to quadrupled fares, a significant increase in rider complaints, and a 50% decline in ridership.

House Bill 2008 is a joint effort of the House Northwest and Southeast Democratic delegations.

Earlier this year, the Northwest Delegation, which Burns chairs, wrote a letter to DHS Secretary Teresa Miller, advocating a delay in changes to the shared ride services mandate.