Speaking to kids and feedback on Mcare

Article posted on October 31, 2007

Originally, we were supposed to be in session today but that changed last week.  Because I was supposed to be in Harrisburg, nothing got scheduled for me in the district.  I got a lot done today and feel like I actually worked instead of running from one thing to the other while things stack up.  Things did stack up but not as much as usual.  I will be speaking to a lot of school kids over the next two days, that is always interesting.  I try to get them to tell me what they really think about issues and why.  Oft times their positions are not very solid and you can see them being persuaded by what I am saying at the time or what their teacher told them previously or what the rest of the class thinks.  Some students stand on their own better than others probably due to their upbringing at home.  After Mike Folmer and I’s vote yesterday on the Mcare bill, I have spoken to or heard from several local medical professionals, all have been appreciative of my vote.  One local doctor who I  spoke to last evening said, and I quote (at least as well as I can remember his words), “we don’t want a hand out, we want the problems fixed”.  A lot of these guys get the issues surrounding medical malpractice and these issues are not being taken care of.  The Mcare fund is important today to treat the symtom of affordable coverage availability but it is not a permanent solution.

– John

The Mcare vote

Article posted on October 30, 2007

We had an interesting vote today on Mcare.  Mcare is a public sector professional liability insurance fund set up for physicians and a few other medical professionals.  This fund was established in, I think 2002, as a temporary fix for the lack of private sector insurance at affordable rates.  It has been recently reported that there is excess money in this fund due to a drop in claim activity.  As things go in Harrisburg, the reported excess money was quickly sought after for other purposes.  The problems with this scenario are various.  No one is sure how much “extra” money there really is since a careful analysis has not been done by an actuary who would look at claim trends and long term liability.  If there is extra money, why not cut the income or tax coming into the account to lessen the burden on taxpayers?  Lastly, since the Mcare fund was established as a temporary fix until the private sector is willing to pick up the coverage at affordable rates, there is a need to establish a long term claim reserve account to pay for claims after the Mcare fund is closed.  Mike Folmer and I voted against this bill that included taking 50% of any extra money and establishing two new programs that would be essentially entitlement programs next year.  Adding more government programs to a temporary funding stream is bad public policy.  Mike Folmer and I were the only two votes against it in the Senate.  Watch where we are with this mess several years from now.  I’ll bet that the two new entitlement programs will not receive any less dollars even if the excess money is reduced.  Time will tell.

– John

Eichelberger and Folmer Stand Together for Docs by Opposing $100 million Raid on Mcare Fund

Article posted on October 30, 2007

Contact: Austin O’Neill 717-787-5490 or aoneill@pasen.gov  

HARRISBURG (October 30, 2007) – State Senators John H. Eichelberger, Jr. (R-Blair) and Mike  Folmer (R-Lebanon) today stood firm for doctors as the only two to oppose legislation (SB 1137) raiding $100 million from the Mcare Fund to create two new entitlement programs.   Mcare is the Commonwealth’s Medical Care Availability and Reduction of Error Program, which was implemented in 2002 to help doctors afford medical malpractice insurance. By law they are required to carry $1 million of malpractice insurance, half of which is subsidized by Mcare.  The new entitlement programs: 1) Establish a medical safety automation fund (electronic medical records) for grants to health care providers;
2) Support the reduction of health care associated infections.

Folmer said, “The way to provide relief for our doctors is by enacting meaningful legal reform, not creating new entitlement programs from the insurance reserve money.”  Eichelberger concurred, stating, “No actuarial data is available to responsibly take money from the account. Furthermore, by introducing two new programs to be funded from the same source, we’re putting Pennsylvania’s doctors at risk, as these new programs are expected to grow.”  

In addition to the current Mcare coverage, Folmer and Eichelberger listed the following legal reforms as crucial components in lowering doctors’ medical malpractice insurance premiums:   1) Capping jury awards for non-economic damages at $250,000; and 2) Replacing “joint and several” liability, also known as the “deep pocket” rule, with proportional liability in civil suits.   SB 1137 passed 44-2 and now moves to the House for consideration.

Staff changes

Article posted on October 29, 2007

I don’t think that I mentioned last week that I have made some changes to the office staff.  After Brian Turk, my former Chief of Staff, left at the end of July, I decided to take a hard look at how the office was running and not make any decisions about replacing that position until I knew what I wanted.  Last Monday was the first day for my new Chief of Staff, Jason High.  Jason has been with me through my campaign and in the Senate.  He was originally my Legislative Director and has the expanded responsibility of managing the entire office operation.  Michele Adams from my staff will assist Jason with administrative duties including system wide issues such as constituent correspondence, filing systems, newspaper dissemination and other day to day problems facing the office staff.  These duties will be on top of her role as Economic Development and Transportation Specialist.  The new addition to the staff is Austin O’Neill who joins our team as the Communications and Policy Director and is based in Harrisburg.   Austin was a former radio reporter for WRTA in Altoona where she covered me as a County Commissioner.  She then worked for a couple of major news stations in Washington, D.C.  Austin will be the primary media contact and will assist Jason with policy matters in Harrisburg.  She will attend committee meetings and hearings in my absence and will work with Jason and I on legislation.  These new changes and one new face will help us do a better job for the people of the district and Pennsylvania.

– John

Open records

Article posted on October 28, 2007

After church today I hit the office all day till about 7:30.  I didn’t have any other committments so I just worked.  I don’t mind the work as long as I feel that I got something done. I’m about 50/50 on today’s effort.  I did look at some newspaper articles today and listened to some of the Steeler game on the radio.  The Steelers did well, the public didn’t do as well in the papers.  Brad Bumstead from the Tribune Review layed out the fallicies of the House’s “Swiss-cheese” Open Records Reform bill.  Citing Tim Potts from Democracy Rising in saying that the revised version may weaken Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law, already regarded as the worst in the nation.  The Senate has a much better version which should move through our chamber soon.  The House version is absolute proof that things have not changed much, if at all, in Harrisburg following the latest election. 

– John

The investigation must continue

Article posted on October 27, 2007

After my men’s fellowship group this morning I went to one of the churches, where Charlotte is the organist, for a pancake and sausage breakfast.  The food is always good and the people are always nice and supportive.  I got a haircut today and then shopped for most of the rest of the day.  I needed some things for the office and some things for home.  I talked to a number of people while I was out today who brought up the PHEAA issue.  It really has not died down, in our area at least, not that it should.  I spoke last evening with folks from Fulton County about how the Attorney General needs to do the right thing and go after everyone involved in the bonus gate scandale.  This week, records were taken from the Republicans in the House, nothing appears to be happening in the Senate.  Capitolwire did a story or two this past week connecting contributions from Tom Corbett’s last campaign to prominate Republicans of that time and his apparent failure to date to go after them.  We will see how things go and if, in fact, he truly follows the evidence, which is what he regularly says.

– John

Maybe dancing lessons would help

Article posted on October 26, 2007

This morning I had the privilege of attending a ribbon cutting ceremony at Lampire Biological Laboratories just outside of Everett.  This is a 30 year old business that is adding on.  I met the owner, Greg Krug, in Harrisburg earlier this year.  He is a very nice person who has done well with his growing business.  He also has a facility in eastern PA as well as a farm in Bedford County.  Life or bio sciences is high tech stuff.  As a member of the Communications and Technology Committee in the Senate I am learning about this fast growing and important industry which is improving the health of the world.  I forgot to mention yesterday that last night I caught a ballroom dance with one of the ladies from the “Golden Nuggets” group in Altoona.  This  group of seniors gets together regularly to dance at different social clubs and senior centers around Blair County.  I told my partner that I couldn’t dance and ended up tramping on her foot 3 times.  She was very gracious and didn’t complain.  I’ll have to take some lessons before my next ballroom experience.  

– John

Senator Eichelberger and Country Star Ricky Lee Encourage Kids to “Catch a Dream”

Article posted on October 26, 2007

rickylee-064.jpgCountry Star Ricky Lee’s “Catch That Dream School Tour,” had students clapping along and dancing in their seats at the Claysburg Kimmel Elementary School Thursday.

“Today is a special day because we’re talking about dreams. Everybody’s dream is as special as anyone’s dream. But one thing that you have to do is believe that you can. If you believe, you will start being surrounded by people who believe in you,” Lee told the 500 students.

Senator John H. Eichelberger Jr.,(R-Blair) also participated in the event to support school programs like “Positive Actions Win,” at Claysburg Kimmel.

“P.A.W is a very positive program for young people and we need to encourage our kids more.”

rickylee-080.jpgJohn shared with the kids some of his childhood memories from the Blair County area and said, “you can have great dreams and do really great things with your life. But dreams don’t have to be extravagant.  You can just dream of being a really good person, you
can be a good mom, you can be a good dad, you can be a volunteer,” he said. “Ricky Lee is here with us today at Claysburg Kimmel, taking time out of his busy schedule, volunteering and that’s really great.”

Eichelberger, Lee and Claysburg Kimmel Superintendant James O’Harrow, also presented certificates to the student winners of Lee’s “Catch a Dream” essay contest.

According to Ricky Lee’s website, his “Catch That Dream School Tour,” visits Altoona’s Roosevelt School– Saturday, October 27th — 6:30-7:30pm.

For more information contact Austin O’Neill at 717-787-5490 or aoneill@pasen.gov.

Catch a Dream

Article posted on October 25, 2007

I had to get my truck fixed this morning. After 140,000 miles, the windshield wiper motor stopped working. I took it to a local Ford garage and had a little delay in getting the part. Given my busy agenda, I couldn’t wait and was going to make arrangements to bring it back another time when the mechanic said that I could borrow his personal vehicle. I did so and made all of my appointments today. Just when you think there are no people left out there who will do nice things, a guy does something like this. Thank you Dan. I spoke to the Claysburg Kimmel Elementary School kids today with Ricky Lee, the country music singer. He has a program for schools called “Catch a Dream”. The elementary kids are always a fun bunch to deal with, especially the little ones. Ricky’s program is an attempt to encourage these young people and let them know that they really can achieve their dreams. Hopefully we helped a little today.

– John

Bedford County townhall

Article posted on October 24, 2007

Just finished our first Town Hall meeting in Bedford, I think that it went well.  We had a lively group of about 60 people.  Some of the issues ranged from the Bonus Ban bill to leasing the Turnpike to down sizing the legislature to wind turbines to economic development and others.  I enjoy these events.  Thanks to Sharon Turkovich and other staff for putting things together.  Charlotte reports that the pup is doing well today.  She took the day off to nurse her back to health. 

– John