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Pennsylvania lawmakers pass six month extension on regulatory waivers

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(By Christen Smith – The Center Square) – The Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a six-month extension for hundreds of regulatory waivers while lawmakers consider a more permanent fix.

House Bill 1861, which addresses up to 500 suspended regulations, heads to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk after both chambers unanimously approved the measure Wednesday. Prime sponsor Rep. Andrew Lewis, R-Harrisburg, said some of the regulations were reinstated, but dozens more that provide flexibility for hospitals, pharmacies and medical professionals were renewed until March 2022.

“I have long been a proponent of regulatory reform, and the pandemic has demonstrated more clearly than ever why we must cut government red tape and let the free market thrive,” Lewis said. 

Many of the waivers were set to expire Thursday – a deadline set by legislative Republicans when they terminated the COVID-19 disaster declaration in June.

Wolf first suspended the regulations at the beginning of the pandemic as he sought to ease red tape holding back hospitals and state agencies from responding faster and more efficiently.

But with hundreds of waivers to sort through, legislative leaders said this second extension gives them more time to determine which ones should be permanently undone.

“We extended some waivers to continue to provide flexibility in addressing critical health and human services, as well as consumer and employee flexibilities waivers as we continue to manage out of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Greensburg, in an email to reporters Wednesday afternoon.

House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, likewise praised the measure as “the first major effort at tackling this massive change.”

“When looking at a massive upset of our traditional regulatory scheme and forging a path forward, especially while still navigating a global pandemic, the priority must be: First, do no harm,” he said.

Some of the extended waivers allow for hospital staffing flexibility, give pharmacies continued ability to administer COVID-19 vaccines and permit mental health services to be delivered via telehealth, among others.

Nathan Benefield, president of the Commonwealth Foundation, praised the legislation in a statement Wednesday. 

“We hope that lawmakers will work to ensure these regulatory suspensions are made permanent when this temporary measure ends,” he said. “Regulations that restrict access to health care during a pandemic are harmful regulations at all times.”

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