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Talks continue on proposal to merge state health agencies

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Talks continue on a proposal to combine four state health-related agencies into one, could impact the lives of millions of Pennsylvanians.

The consolidation is a key part of a cost-cutting effort in Governor Tom Wolf's 2017-2018 budget.

Several stakeholders took part in a joint hearing in Harrisburg to discuss the unification of Health and Human Services.

If the proposal goes through, it could be one of the largest consolidations of state agencies in Pennsylvania history.

The hearing gave all involved a chance to share in the planning process and to give their input.

The heads of four state agencies gathered to discuss how they could work together to cut costs and red tape.

Acting Secretary of Drug and Alcohol Programs Jennifer Smith said "we know that we can reduce administrative barriers, and costs. We know that we can streamline regulations and procedures, and overall provide improved access to quality care."

Department of Health Secretary Karen Murphy said "and what most concerns me is to ensure that the 12 million Pennsylvanians that we serve has access to strong public infrastructure."

The agencies up for consolidation by the July 1, 2017 deadline include The Department of Aging, The Department of Alcohol Programs, The Department of Health, and The Department of Human Services.

The goal and the challenge, is to determine how they can merge those agencies without impacting services.

Secretary of Human Services Ted Dallas said "the governor's proposal is to align PACE with the Medicaid fee per service number, so that's $7. If that number were adopted for PACE, we believe we could realize the 45 million dollars that's included in the governor's budget."

Sen. Michelle Brooks (R-Mercer County) said "I'm not quite sure the numbers are adding up. I do have a concern about that moving forward, that if that's the type of math that's being used, what other types of numbers probably aren't going to be realized."

The proposal that is expected to save millions of dollars also has some wondering at what costs.

Sen. Judith Schwank (D-Berks County) said "when a constituent comes into my office, and is looking for a service, will I be able to offer that knowing that our budget is what it is and under this consolidation, what it might mean."

"I don't think that at the end of the day that the consolidation, the unification of these agencies is solely about saving money. I think the more important part and the more important part always for me is about making sure we find ways to put that consumer first," Dallas said.

There is a four-step plan to consolidate, but if the plan is approved, it's believed that the July 1st deadline is just the beginning.