Budget Cuts and Access to Care: The Importance of MATP

Just before midnight on June 30th, Governor Corbett passed the new Pennsylvania state budget, slashing nearly $1 billion, or 4 percent of the previous year’s total budget. The after effects of these sweeping cuts have yet to be fully realized. It is clear that social services aiding the elderly and low-income were particularly hard hit.  One such program, the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) lost $8.5 million of its funding.  MATP provides transportation to non-emergency medical appointments to those who receive Medical Assistance (MA) through Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare.
Last year nearly 190,000 Pennsylvanians, 50,000 of whom are older adults, depended on MATP to get to their MA covered appointments.  Examples include trips to doctor’s appointments; trips to pick up prescriptions; and travel to treatments for dialysis and radiation.  Previously, any individual who received Medical Assistance (MA) through the Department of Public Welfare was entitled to transportation to medical appointments and related trips.  Cuts to MATP will likely mean that certain services will no longer be covered and that fewer of the individuals who receive MA and need help accessing their doctors, pharmacies and other health services will not be able to continue to do so.
In light of the cuts, the House plans to introduce a $1 round-trip co-pay for MATP.  While this may not sound like a lot, those qualifying for the program meet the federal poverty level and depend on public assistance to attain basic necessities like food, shelter and health care. Many of the elderly who rely on this service have multiple appointments and related medical trips weekly, so the $1 co-pay will quickly add up and may prove cost prohibitive.  CARIE has recommended calling off the co-pay or capping out-of-pocket costs to no more than $3 per month.
Social service programs play a crucial role in economic development, which cuts like this ignore.  Without a greater appreciation for the purpose and context of how MATP works for not only the health and well-being of low-income individuals, but also their role in the state’s economy, cutting $8.5 million dollars from a nearly $74 million program sounds like a way to address the state’s 15.6% budget deficit.
However, from a purely economic standpoint, cuts like these will not lower costs in the long-term but will instead likely create an explosive increase in Medical Assistance costs.  The cost incurred by the state for an individual on MA rises more than ten-fold if the patient cannot access preventive non-emergency measures such as a doctor’s appointment and must instead resort to an emergency room visit and/or hospital stay when their disease or condition has reached a more advanced stage due to lack of maintained care.
The saddest part about cuts like the one just made to MATP is that they reduce, or in some cases, eliminate an essential lifeline to those who need it the most. While it may be too late to save the millions cut from MATP for this coming fiscal year, this example serves as a reminder of the importance of each citizen’s voice.  When you hear about proposed cuts to essential programs that you feel are wrong, let your legislator know. We live in a democracy where citizen participation is vital to creating the society we want. If you’re unsure of who to contact use the below link to find out who you’re legislator is and take part in preserving important programs and services.
By C. Allison Givhan, CARIE LINE Transportation Advocate at CARIE.  Visit https://www.carie.org/ or contact CARIE at 1-800-356-3606.
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