It was a busy year in the Commonwealth for health care-related topics. From marijuana townhalls to abortion bans, here are my picks for the top 5 healthcare stories to know from 2019.
- To understand why Pennsylvania moms die, the state needs to collect better data first, By Sarah Anne Hughes, April 2019 – “No one really knows the total number of maternal deaths in [Pennsylvania] because we have never before recorded it any systematic manner.” This article examines the rise in maternal deaths in the U.S. and Pennsylvania, specifically concerns over the lack of data regarding maternal deaths and the number of disproportionately affected African American women.
In a September follow up, reporter Stephen Caruso wrote that the state received more than $2 million from the Centers for Disease Control to study deaths associated with pregnancy.
In response to the startling number of maternal deaths, state Rep. Morgan Cephas, D-Philadelphia, rolled out a four-bill package that she says will “increase access to care and address bias within the healthcare system.”
- Pa.’s marketplace change, explained: Why a health insurance proposal easily won bipartisan support, By Stephen Caruso, July 2019 – A “legislative unicorn,” the state General Assembly had bipartisan support this summer when it passed legislation to create a state health insurance marketplace by 2021. The bill received just one dissenting vote.
- Gov. Tom Wolf backs marijuana legalization, says Legislature should ‘seriously debate’ the issue, By Sarah Anne Hughes, September 2019 – With other states moving swiftly to legalize and decriminalize recreational marijuana usage, Gov. Tom Wolf is pushing for Pennsylvania to catch up. In late September, Wolf said that he would like to see the state Legislature ‘seriously debate’ the issue, adding “this strikes me as the right thing to do.”
This push for further debating legalization follows Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s tour of Pennsylvania earlier this year to find out where citizens of the Commonwealth stand on the issue.
- Wolf vetoes Down syndrome abortion ban, By Stephen Caruso, November 2019 – Across the country, state legislatures attempted to ban abortion at an exasperating rate in 2019. Pennsylvania fought off its share of ban attempts this year, including a ban on abortion where a diagnosis of Down Syndrome is present in the fetus.
That same month, a bill to expand telemedicine in Pennsylvania included language that would prevent telemedicine from being used for abortions along with other prescriptions and services.
In addition to the attempted Down Syndrome ban, Republican lawmakers Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, R-Clinton, and Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, took another stab at abortion access with a proposed fetal heartbeat ban, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant.
- Pa. Health department has collected just 160 complaints on oil and gas production in nearly a decade, By Stephen Caruso, October 2019 – Over the last decade, the Pennsylvania Department of Health said it has received 160 complaints about health concerns related to natural gas and drilling. This number is at odds with the Department of Environmental Protection’s Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee who says it received 9,000 complaints between 2004-2016.