This month, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department will announce health insurance premium rates on individual and small group plans for 2017, just ahead of the open enrollment period that begins in November. In July, the Department held its first annual public informational hearing on proposed rate increases following eight months of pressure from Put People First! PA (PPF-PA) members who engaged hundreds of impacted people and organizations across the state. At the hearing, dozens expressed opposition to rate increases, with story after story about how insurance companies are bankrupting PA families. Testifiers were supported by advocacy groups, public health organizations, unions and state legislators.

Citing rising healthcare costs, their own profit margins and not enough young and healthy people signing up for plans, insurance companies seek to stem profit losses by hiking rates on people who need access to care, and putting pressure on government regulators to allow it – something we saw in public for the first time during the hearing in July. At last month’s PA Health Access Network (PHAN) Conference in Harrisburg, Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller foreshadowed the announcement of potentially large increases, lamenting that rates were kept ‘too low’ last year. But if increases of up to 26.7% are still considered too low to prop up big insurers, nearly a million enrolled in the Marketplace face a dastardly trick this fall.

In “Beyond Coverage, Putting People First In Pennsylvania’s Healthcare System”, a recent report based on a survey of people in 46 counties by PPF-PA, 82% of respondents indicated that last year’s premium increases affected their lives, while 37% indicated that the cost of medical care has forced them to skip paying for basic necessities like food and rent within the past 12 months.

As another round of increased insurance premiums impact family budgets, more Pennsylvanians  will be driven out of the marketplace, leading to a vicious cycle of more expensive yet narrower plans. Currently the individual penalty for not buying insurance of $695/yr., or 2.5% of personal income (whichever is higher), is well beyond what most people can afford.

July’s public hearing was a triumph for democracy in Pennsylvania. The Insurance Department responded to the organized power of people, and listened attentively to our struggles with out-of-control insurance costs. We called on the department to represent the interests of the people because proper regulation of insurance companies is necessary to protect our health and human rights. In our survey of PA residents, 9 out of 10 people agreed that the government needs to do more to protect Pennsylvanians’ health.

The people have already said loudly and clearly that insurance companies cannot be allowed to balance their books on our backs. There is no situation in which a company’s bottom line should come before the needs of a cancer patient or a pregnant person. Our lives are at stake – the health of people comes before the health of the bottom line. Put People First looks forward to the release of new insurance rates for 2017. It will be a pivotal moment to understand whether there is a place for democracy in our healthcare system, and if not, what must be done about it.

In the midst of a presidential contest in which 1.5 billion dollars have already been spent, West York Borough, a municipality in York County, is making national and even international news right now. The mayor of West York, who also is a Republican, posted racist and oppressive public images on his Facebook page that negatively target Black people, women and Muslims. The mayor was requested, but refused, to resign from office and it turns out, without criminal charges, the Borough Council can’t remove him. Put People First! PA and the York Organizing Committee condemn these irresponsible and dangerous actions on the part of a public servant, that set the stage for violence and fear in our communities.

The Mayor supervises police, sets public policy in terms of housing and public safety, breaks Borough council tie votes. If he is willing to publicly dehumanize community members for their gender, ethnic background, heritage, or religion, then he has no place making decisions on behalf of the community.

Members of the York organizing committee, armed with signs, passionate speeches, and the power of their presence, joined a peaceful protest at the West York Borough City council meeting. The people power generated by Put People First, along with several other local groups, led the council to unanimously censure the mayor and authorize the Borough solicitor to seek any possible legal means to initiate removal proceedings.

It wasn’t enough, and will not be enough until this mayor resigns or is removed from office. Members of the York organizing committee will be gathering letters from West York business owners and petition signatures to submit to statewide legislators, but we will also be there, speaking truth to power, until Mayor Wasko is no longer in office.

This isn’t just about a publicity stunt during an election year. Pennsylvania is considered a prize for either party in this election, but once election day is over and the cameras go away, we’ll all still be here. Put People First is a non-partisan organization. It’s not about the Democratic or Republican parties, neither of which represent the interests of everyday people. It’s about standing up to a climate of hate which is fed to the people through the actions of so-called leaders and amplified by the media, which infects the people and turns communities on each other. Put People First brings everyday people of all backgrounds together while the social media posts of Mayor Wasko, and the laws and policies of the powers that be that threaten our everyday survival tear families and communities apart.

“We always hear about these proud proclamations of racism by public servants across the nation and as bad as we want to be with those being affected, a demanding life and long distances keep us from physically being there. When I heard Mayor Wasko of the West York Borough was one of these proud racists, a twenty minute drive from my home to the borough seemed like a walk down the street. I had to be there. As a black male, everyone who spoke against his hatred told a fraction of my story. Soon it became clear that even the most seemingly reclusive individuals garnered the best of themselves to denounce the racial divide in our nation. Everyone understood that Wasko was merely a symptom of what needs to be fixed. Borough council created a space of respect and community. They understand division inhibits growth, and if division must happen, it must be with the ones who refuse to grow within themselves. Mayor Wasko’s term was needed as the catalyst for what will become one of many revolutionary movements against racism to affect change from the ground up.” – Terrell Turner, York Organizing Committee Member

Put People First just came back from our fourth annual Membership Assembly in Harrisburg, PA. We spent the weekend discussing our campaigns, reflecting on what it means to be a member of PPF, sharing about gender power and gender oppression, and celebrating our victories and each other. We are invigorated for another powerful year fighting all across the state for our human right to healthcare!

Put People First is a multi-generational organization. Among the nearly 100 people who joined together in Harrisburg, 20 were children. These young people bring life and energy to our movement, and they help us stay grounded and remember what we’re fighting for. We are so happy for their presence and participation!

Azzare (age 10) has been to two membership assemblies. During our celebration on Saturday night, she talked to 26 different people and asked them each what their favorite part of PPF is. Thank you Azzare for your hard work reporting on this beautiful night! It’s so important for us to document the love and joy in our movement.


What is your favorite part of Put People First?

“How wonderful the people are.” – Ben

“That everyone gets to participate.” – R.

“Everything!” – Bahjah

“Meeting people from all over Pennsylvania.” – Zack

“That we are so powerful together.” – Noah

“The people, the energy, the commitment.” – Rebecca

“Everyone can be themselves.” – Maddie

“I love that it’s people of all ages.” – Anna


“I love the people, and everybody is so awesome!” – Menvekeh

“Being a big family” – Jacob

“The people.” – Kate

“Learning from other members’ stories.” – Ash

“How it brings people of different races, ethnicities, sexualities and religions together.” – Rick

“The people.” – Jamie L.

“Everyone I work with. Also, you can do it for free.” – Karim

“All the people.” – Danelle

“How it brings out self-respect and leadership.” – Sean

“Community.” – Mihir

“Family.” – Quinha

“The people.” – Jamie B.


“Connecting with everybody.” – Alex

“The community.” – Suzi

“The unity, love, support.” – Laile

“The best people take care of people.” – Dan

“People’s humility.” – Maní

“Working with people of all ages.” – Clarissa

Check back soon for more from the 2016 Membership Assembly!!

The Fall 2016/Winter 2017 Newsletter is here! Our bi-annual newsletter is hot off the presses, chock full of great contributions from our members. This past year has been an amazing one for Put People First! Read about the “2016 Summer of Action”  including articles like “PPF Wins Insurance Department Hearing on ACA Premium Hikes” and a powerful piece from Danelle Morrow of the Mother Jones Leadership Program and Johnstown organizing committee. Also check out reflections from a PPF delegation to Brazil, and a profound piece  by Nick Morrisey about State Correctional Institution Fayette – among other great pieces of content including the first of a new series of reflections from PPF’s LGBTQ+ members!