Heading into the 2011-12 legislative session, the Republican Party will have its strongest majority in nearly fifty years. And the 110 to 90 lead could grow after recounts in three close races. The party can’t lose ground after the recounts since each of the three races involves a Democratic incumbent. New members will be sworn in on January 4, 2011.

The Republican overcame a 104-98 deficit to win control of the House.

House GOP Leader, Sam Smith (Jefferson), who is almost certain to be the next Speaker of the House, said in a statement that the people of Pennsylvania have set next year’s agenda. "Our message of controlling spending, improving the jobs climate was a welcome change,” Smith said.

Key victors for the Republicans included Tarah Toohil in the 116th District defeating the current Democrat Majority Leader; Doyle Heffley in the 122nd District, an open seat due to Speaker Keith McCall's (D-Carbon County) retirement; George Dunbar defeating Rep. James Cassario (D-Westmoreland County); Eli Evankovich in the 54th District defeating Rep. John Pallone (DWestmoreland County) in the 56th District; and Warren Kampf defeating Rep. Paul Drucker (D-Chester County) in 157th District.

The change in power in the House and the election of Tom Corbett as governor give the GOP total control of the legislative process. Senate Republicans maintained their 30-20 seat lead after the November 2 elections. The strong majority in both houses also eliminates the possibility that a small group of Republican members can block a bill favored by the majority in their caucus.

“When the majority is a slim one for either party, it doesn’t take much for one or two members to vote against their caucus on a certain issue and kill the bill’s chances for approval,” said one political observer. “The larger the majority the more difficult it is for that to happen.”

One key piece of legislation coming up is re-drawing of the state’s congressional seats based on the 2010 Census. The Republicans now have enough control to draw the new lines almost entirely in their favor.

Internet-based exchange that will allow consumers without health care to choose an affordable plan.

Some Pennsylvania consumers could select their health insurance cafeteria style under the exchanges. The March, 2010 federal law left the development of the exchanges, to the states.

“In simplest terms, the exchanges will be online marketplaces for consumers to choose a health insurance plan,” said Cindy Fillman, Director of the Office of Consumer Liaison for the Insurance Department. “Beyond that, we are too early in the development plan to describe exactly how it will work.”

Fillman added that the exchanges could range in style and setup to one in Utah, which she describes as a “shoppers guide”, to one in Massachusetts, HealthConnnector. Both states established the exchanges prior to the signing of the federal law.

“The Massachusetts exchange works more like a brokerage house,” Fillman said. “It quotes prices, even selects plans for people.”

A state agency administers the Massachusetts plan. The Pennsylvania Insurance Department is looking at three administrative options: a state agency, a public-private partnership, or an independent authority. If the Department selects no plan, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) oversees implementation.

“That’s the least desirable and least likely option,” Fillman said.

The Department can’t move forward with its plan to implement the exchange until it receives guidelines from HHS regarding the minimum level of benefits allowed in any plan offered on the exchange. They expect those guidelines sometime in November

The federal funds include a consumer assistance grant that will expand and enhance the department's consumer outreach through educational programs and provide substantive advice to consumers regarding their health insurance appeals. The grant will also be used to create online tools for consumers to check the status of their complaints or inquiries, submit comments and questions about health insurance and track the overall consumer complaint record for insurance companies, according to a statement by the Department.

These funds mark the third and fourth awards that the Insurance Department has received to implement reforms enacted in the new federal law. Earlier grants were used to create Pennsylvania's temporary program for individuals previously denied insurance due to pre-existing conditions, known as PA Fair Care, and to further scrutinize and review health insurance rates to ensure that consumers are receiving full value for their premium dollars.

Other provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act that have gone into effect this fall include extending health care coverage to adult children up to age 26, prohibiting denial of coverage to children with preexisting conditions and the implementation of a 2010 federal tax credit of up to 35 percent of employers' contributions to their employees' health insurance.