Medically necessary transportation services important to many people

I received a phone call in my Allentown office one winter day from a frustrated senior citizen who happened to be a LANTAVan rider. 

The weather had turned nasty and the icy conditions understandably forced LANTA to shut down their operations for the rest of the day. However this cancellation caused this person to miss a dialysis appointment – and as anyone experiencing kidney failure can attest, this can be a life-threatening delay. 

Certainly, it was incumbent upon LANTA and the health care facility to work together to find the earliest time to accommodate this patient. Fortunately this person only experienced a one-day delay and ultimately all was well. 

As both a board member of LANTA and state representative, I realize that the LANTAVan service is far from perfect. I also realize this is an extremely important public service that is often the only way someone can get to life-sustaining medical appointments.

Understanding how vital this mode of transportation is to the most at-risk seniors and working-class Pennsylvanians, I am appalled by a recent vote in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that begins the process of eliminating funding for this service (H.B. 59).  

You may be asking yourself why someone would vote for this. As state representative, let me throw back the curtain of the legislative process and explain how this happened. 

Buried in the middle of a long and extremely detailed bill known as the Human Services Code was a clause that would allow Gov. Tom Wolf or a future governor the ability to apply for a federal waiver to eliminate non-emergency medical transportation.

In English, this clause says that the governor can ask the federal government for permission to stop paying for this kind of medical trip. 

This bill, which originally had to do with adopting children, was amended to include a number of hurtful and troubling provisions, including the clause that would take away funding for non-emergency medical transportation.

In May 2017, LANTAVan made 14,152 trips paid for by Medical Assistance. That is 14,000 medically necessary trips in just one month for our parents and neighbors. These trips allow some of the most vulnerable residents of Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, Macungie, Whitehall, Nazareth and Bangor to get the vital health care needed to live, such as the person mentioned earlier. 

When I spoke about this during the House debate, I asked my colleagues to consider that taking away transportation options to and from a doctor’s office has the same real effect as closing a health care facility or canceling the insurance of those seniors and people with disabilities who do not drive. 

After all, what good are top rated hospitals and quality health insurance for our seniors if they can’t get a ride?

I argued that costs would dramatically increase.

Everyone knows that if that person fails to attend their regular appointments for dialysis, they will inevitably end up in the emergency room and will likely have a costly hospital stay. 

All of those costs will be borne by the taxpayers through the Medical Assistance program. As would, ironically, their ambulance ride. It goes without saying that this is far more expensive than a ride to a dialysis appointment. 

In the end, my argument for compassion for those older Pennsylvanians, my argument for access to health care and my argument for fiscal prudence failed to convince enough members to vote no. 

For the record, H.B. 59 passed by one vote. Not one Democrat voted for the amendments or final passage of this bill. (It should be noted that a handful of independent-minded Republicans joined me in opposing this bill). 

The state Senate has the chance to strip this and other harmful and hateful provisions out of H.B. 59 before it heads to the governor’s desk for his consideration. It is my sincere hope that our Senate does what we should have done in the House, which is to protect our vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities.