Joe Martins Independence Day holiday unexpectedly lasted a day longer than expected. Martins employer, the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council abruptly closed at the end of June after political wrangling stalled a bill needed to keep the quality agencys doors open.
The legislative stalemate over a last-minute Senate amendment put more than 40 of the councils employees out of work as of July 1. Martin, one of a five-person skeleton crew to remain until July 3, says that no one anticipated the independent agencys hasty closure. The bill to extend the councils data collection on hospital price and quality for another five years had wide support, he says. At the last minute, the Republican-controlled state Senate tried to link the councils reauthorization to an extension of a malpractice insurance subsidy for doctors. But Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell wants to link the doctors subsidy extension to his effort to expand health coverage for nearly 300,000 uninsured Pennsylvanians. In the end, neither side got much traction.
On July 7, the councils remaining staff was pared down to two; Martin was let go.
Thankfully, politics may give as well as take. Martin, the spokesman for the agency, and his colleagues are back, at least until late November, after Rendell issued an executive order to temporarily reopen the agency, which monitors the cost and quality of the states healthcare system and issues periodic reports on hospital practices and finances. The council still needs legislative reauthorization this fall.