Health Insurance

Insurance Expert Q&A: Pennsylvania State Representative Tina Pickett

As a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2001, Tina Pickett has long been an advocate for consumers. In particular, as the chair of the House Insurance Committee, Representative Pickett has extensive insight on the current state of insurance in Pennsylvania. We had the opportunity to speak with Rep. Pickett to discuss insurance issues that Pennsylvanians are currently dealing with.

The Pennsylvania House Insurance Committee oversees legislation on all things related to insurance. This means it passes regulations on what insurance companies can and can't do and aims to make quality insurance—whether it be auto, homeowners, life or health insurance—available to all Pennsylvanians.

Currently the Pennsylvania House Insurance Committee is considering legislation focused on the accessibility of health care in rural communities in Pennsylvania. Additionally a bill that would simplify the prescription drug process for people—especially older individuals—who take multiple medications has recently passed in the House. We reached out to Rep. Pickett to discuss these initiatives and more, to shed light on how they will impact Pennsylvanians.

As chair of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Insurance Committee, what do you see some of the most important initiatives in the state in terms of insurance?

With the current legislative session ending in a few weeks, the General Assembly is considering a bill requiring coverage parity for telemedicine. Also, the House has approved legislation that would allow consumers to synchronize the refilling of their prescription drug medications. This commonsense legislation would make filling prescriptions more convenient as it would eliminate multiple visits to the pharmacy by allowing all prescriptions to be filled on the same day each month.

Many people, especially seniors, take multiple maintenance medications. Different refill dates throughout the month can make it difficult, especially for those who use public transportation, to pick up their medicine. Studies have shown that when medications are not synchronized, a reduction in taking medications as prescribed occurs.

House Bill 1800 would allow consumers to receive their prescription drug medications from a pharmacy on the same day each month. It would bar an insurance company from denying coverage for a partial fill of a script in order to facilitate medication synchronization. Thirty-five other states have enacted or introduced similar legislation. The measure passed the House on May 1 with a unanimous vote. It was re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 18.

Are there any particular insurance-related issues or legislation that you think Pennsylvanians should know more about?

As fall is approaching, it is the time of year when consumers are making choices on health care coverage for the upcoming year. I would recommend reviewing the policies to ensure that you are making an informed decision on the appropriate coverage for your medical needs.

You recently introduced a bill that would establish the Pennsylvania Rural Health Redesign Center Authority and the Pennsylvania Rural Health Redesign Center Fund. What are you hoping to accomplish with this bill?

This statewide initiative is two-fold; improve health care access to rural populations in Pennsylvania, and help rural hospitals meet the challenges of today’s changing health care financing and delivery systems that have stressed rural hospitals.

In the past, you have fought for legislation that would increase insurance payouts for air ambulance services. What issues are you hoping to address here, and what will the effect be for Pennsylvanians?

Several of my constituents who have received bills upward of $30,000 and more have reached out to me for assistance. In some cases, private insurance denied the claim or only paid a partial claim, leaving consumers obligated to pay the remaining balance. I am hopeful that increasing the Medicaid reimbursement will help these companies offset their expenses and not spread the burden out to other consumers. I also hope that increasing the state reimbursement will also lead to other insurance companies picking up more of the tab. Air ambulances are literally lifesaving services, especially in our rural parts of the state.

What made you interested in introducing legislation designed to help rural communities in Pennsylvania?

As a legislator from a rural area, I know the importance of having quality health care available in rural communities. Many times, these local hospitals are the community’s largest employer. And patients are often able to achieve better health outcomes by being closer to medical care. The reduction in travel time and costs goes a long way toward recovery from illnesses and surgeries.

Federal regulations on short term health insurance plans recently extended the maximum duration of these plans from three months to 12 months (renewable for up to 36 months). What do you think of these short-term plans, and what effect do you think this will have on Pennsylvania residents?

The short-term plans will give consumers more options in obtaining health care that meet their medical needs and ability to pay. The consumer needs to carefully review each plan to determine what is covered and to what amount as they evaluate which plan will cover what they need.

Bailey Peterson

Bailey is a Junior Research Analyst at ValuePenguin, covering credit cards and insurance. He graduated from Occidental College with a B.A. in Mathematics and a minor in Computer Science.