Senator Laughlin E-Newsletter

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Dear Friend,

I am pleased to present my electronic newsletter. These e-newsletters enable me to provide information about issues, events and activities in Harrisburg and around the 49th Senatorial District to you in a timely manner while saving postage costs.

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Two new U.S. Bicycle Routes Designated in PA

Two bicycling routes in Pennsylvania – both of which pass through Erie County — are now officially part of the nationwide U.S. Bicycle Route system.

USBR 30 extends 46 miles along the shore of Lake Erie from Ohio to New York (locally known as BicyclePA Route Z) and runs along the nationally designated Seaway Trail Scenic Byway through Erie County. Riders will enjoy sandy beaches, historic lighthouses, ecological diversity – as well as Presque Isle State Park, which is ranked as the #1 Freshwater Beach in North America. 

USBR 36 extends 398 miles through the center of Pennsylvania from Ohio to New York (locally known as BicyclePA Route Y) and follows much of U.S. Route 6 — which was one of the first highways used to move natural resources, people, and products across the country. The route, which passes through southwestern Erie County, showcases industrial history, including the first underground mine, the first steam locomotive, and the first lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Cyclists will also experience the Allegheny National Forest, Lake Erie, and the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. 

More than 13,000 miles of USBRs have been approved in 25 states. When complete, the system will encompass 50,000 miles of routes and provide expanded opportunities for cross-country travel, regional touring, and commuting by bicycle. 

The new routes join the portion of existing USBR 50 that passes through Southwestern Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh. Planned routes include two (USBRs 11 and 15) along the eastern and western edges of the Appalachian Mountains and one (USBR 1) along the Route 1 corridor in Philadelphia.

Consent Decree – Highmark vs. UPMC

As medical care advances and treatments increase, health care costs also increase. The purpose of health insurance is to help you pay for care. It protects you and your family financially in the event of an unexpected serious illness or injury that could be very expensive. 

Two of the best known health insurance providers in our area are Highmark and UPMC.  Most unfortunately, those two local health giants have been embroiled in a bitter feud for many years.

At issue now is the coming end of the “consent decree” between two health insurance giants.  Many people are now faced with an untenable decision.  Do I change my doctor?  Do I try to change my health insurance?  Can I keep my specialist?  Will I have to switch to an unfamiliar hospital?  And, why am I being forced to do this?

Well, the answer appears to be that these two billion-dollar giants don’t get along.  And because they don’t/can’t/won’t get along, countless individuals, many of whom have developed decades-long relationships with their health providers, are now being forced by these billionaire healthcare insurers to dump their family doctors, primary care providers, specialists, hospitals and emergency rooms. 

Let’s examine this ridiculous history.  Or not. 

Not enough space to get into it here, but if you do a google search you’ll see articles the likes of:  “UPMC, Highmark continue their Medicare Advantage feud; Highmark vs. UPMC: ‘It’s been a mess’; PENNSYLVANIA PLAYERS: HIGHMARK AND UPMC CONTINUE TO BATTLE” and more. 

According to these articles, the problem has been around for years but reached a peak in 2014 when the contract between UPMC Hospitals and Highmark ended and UPMC announced it would no longer offer “in-network” access to UPMC doctors and hospitals to Highmark insurance customers.  The state came in and brokered a five-year consent decree that allowed access for Highmark members to UPMC physicians and hospitals.  That decree expires in June of 2019. 

One article* that sums up the feud nicely was written by Carolyn Johnson of the Washington Post:  “They could be mirror images of each other, flipped upside down. UPMC started out in the hospital business, then created its own health insurance plan and built a $20 billion-a-year enterprise. Highmark, which reported $18.2 billion in revenue last year, announced in 2011 that it would branch from insurance into hospitals.”

So what about you, me, our neighbors and friends, the constituents of the 49th Senatorial District and beyond?  What are we supposed to do now that the general practitioner we’ve been seeing for years has to be fired?  What about the knee specialist that my friend has been working with, but will no longer be able to perform his surgery and monitor his recovery.  And, the countless other scenarios? 

We’re talking about the individuals we trust with our lives.  Don’t misunderstand me, I know there is quality healthcare being provided on both sides.  What really angers me is that corporate health care executives are forcing my friend’s grandmother to find a new doctor after 55 years — someone she’s never laid eyes on before will now be administering her health care at a time when, presumably, her needs will increase. 

These insurance giants are forcing her to leave the physician who kept track of her health all these years, examined her newborns, watched them grow up, asked after her family and knew her medical history.  As she and all of us step into the unknown with different health providers, I ask myself these questions:  Why am I being forced to leave my physician or pay more or pay out-of-pocket?  How long will it take to be comfortable with a new office and demeanor?  How many other people are in the same boat and are as uncomfortable about it as I am?  And, how is it these insurance giants have no qualms about spending our money on a barrage of lawyers in order to force us to do this?

One final thought.  As our region is forced to pick sides for health care, and our anger grows, the other voice in the room grows.  The medical care for all voice.  So someday when the voters demand single-payer health care and the insurance providers are forced out of business, at least they will know when it started.

State Police Announce Independence Day Holiday Enforcement Stats

Pennsylvania State Police troopers investigated a total of 581 crashes that resulted in injuries to 146 people during the three-day Fourth of July holiday driving period of July 3 – 5. Alcohol was a factor in 37 of the crashes investigated.

Troopers responded to two fatal crashes, in which three people were killed.

State Police arrested 316 motorists for driving under the influence and issued 8,577 speeding citations during the holiday driving period. Troopers cited 778 people for not wearing seat belts and issued 173 citations to drivers for failing to secure children in safety seats.

A total of 13 people were killed and 259 others were injured in the 741 crashes that state troopers investigated during last year’s four-day holiday driving period.

More information on 2018 Independence Day enforcement, broken down by troop, is available here. These statistics cover only those incidents investigated by the Pennsylvania State Police and do not include incidents to which other law enforcement agencies responded.

Farmers Market Nutrition Program Vouchers Now Available

Now through November, low-income seniors and eligible participants in the Women Infants and Children (WIC) program can receive vouchers to purchase Pennsylvania-grown fruits, vegetables, and fresh-cut herbs from approved farm markets and farm stands across the Commonwealth.

Eligible seniors — at least 60 years old with incomes that do not exceed $22,459 per-year for a single person or $30,451 for a household of two — can contact their local Area Agency on Aging for information on the program and times and locations of voucher distributions. Women and children ages 1 – 4 who are participating in WIC are eligible to receive vouchers at their quarterly WIC clinic visits.

Participating markets can be found at Participants may redeem vouchers through November 30.

2018-19 Hunting Pocket Guide Now Available Online

The 2018-19 hunting and trapping pocket guide is now available online on the 2018-19 Hunting and Trapping Digest homepage at The pocket guide can be printed at home on 8 ½ by 14 inch (legal) paper. Pocket guides also are available at the Game Commission’s headquarters and regional offices. The 2018-19 license year opened on July 1.

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