On Thursday October 1, three members of Put People First attended a public hearing called by PA Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller on “surprise billing”, which is when a person receives a bill that they weren’t expecting after getting medical care that they believed was covered by their insurance.

Stay tuned for more updates and information this fall on what’s happening on the insurance landscape and what we are doing about it.

This is the testimony of Nijmie, PPF co-founder and member from Philadelphia. Kim and Rich from York also attended the hearing:

Thank you very much for calling this hearing and having me here today.

I am a volunteer with Put People First! PA. I’m here today from Philadelphia along with two other members from York, PA. As our name suggests we are a people’s organization of individuals and families throughout the state who believe that people’s lives are more important than profit. We have members in 17 counties throughout the state.

I want to raise what I think is an important and necessary perspective which is that we are not merely consumers of healthcare we are human beings and we are trying to shift the paradigm of being labeled consumers and move to a model of healthcare as a human right.

In 2012 I transitioned out of a job and spent two years with no care. Luckily the worst thing that happened to me during that time was a really bad case of strep throat.

Last year I got an ACA plan – a silver plan that is really quite expensive. I may not be a good healthcare shopper – in reality i hate shopping unless it’s for shoes.

I found a provider and a doctor that I liked and finally I went after paying for the coverage for almost a year without even using it because I was out of the habit. I got a check up and some blood work done and I am happy to report that I am healthy and there are no major problems other than slightly elevated cholesterol levels.

Then about a week ago I got a bill that I really wasn’t expecting for $198.00. Evidently my bloodwork somehow wasn’t covered and it says in big bold lettering on my bill PATIENT RESPONSIBILITY.

So what have I learned from this experience? After being without insurance for two years, buying insurance on the marketplace, paying a significant amount every month for over a year and finally seeing a doctor only to end up with a surprise bill for about the amount I am paying for my plan in the course of a month, I basically ended up paying extra – almost a fine if you will – on top of the insurance that I already have to pay for.

I have learned that coverage is not the same as care. Our healthcare system is too complicated and I’m left with a basic question – is healthcare a right or a privilege? I believe, and we believe that it is a human right, we need care the way we need education, or the way we need water. It’s not an optional service, but a fundamental need and therefore, I believe, a human right.

I support and we support regulation on this matter, and we should also look to the root cause of this problem which is the existence of networks in the first place. Our system is way too complicated – for people as well as for healthcare providers who have to spend as much time negotiating with insurance companies as they do providing care. And I have also learned that I am not merely a healthcare consumer, I am first a human being.

Many people around Pennsylvania are waking up to the fact that healthcare is a right and not a privilege and we would be happy to support you on this issue and any others to protect people in our healthcare system.

Thanks again.

Check out the Put People First’s Fall/Winter Newsletter! This edition of the Keystone News features articles from our own Dinah DeWald, Nijmie Dzurinko, Roger Swartz, Rich Burrill and Eliel Acosta, with an interview with Kim J. Atland, and a poem by Javier Cotal. Click the link below to read on about PPF’s most recent work across the state!

Keystone News Fall/Winter 2015

Are you interested in contributing a reflection or art to the Spring/Summer 2016 issue? Contact Maddie Taterka at madeline [dot] taterka [at] gmail [dot] com.

by Nijmie Dzurinko

When Marie Funk, mother of PPF member Danelle Morrow, first spoke with a recruiter from Senior Life of Johnstown after moving there from Altoona in January 2015, she was told she “would never have another worry about her health.” That sounded pretty great to this 69-year old mother and grandmother.


However, Senior Life did not follow through on its promise, instead creating roadblocks to care for Marie that meant that by the time she was diagnosed with lung cancer, it was terminal. Now, Marie is crowdfunding for her cremation because the expenses might leave her daughter and grandchildren homeless. On her GoFundMe page, she writes,

“I have recently been diagnosed with stage 4 lung Cancer. Since March my doctors have ignored my complaints about my pains. Now I am terminal, and I need help to pay for my cremation, as my family is going to have trouble funding the $1500-2000 it costs to simply cremate a body. I am not asking for a funeral, just simple cremation. Please help me ease my comfort knowing my family will not have to scramble trying to come up with these funds.”

Senior Life is a Medicare Program that, according to its website, is an alternative to nursing homes. The program claims to provide people with “a comprehensive homecare plan that allows them to live at home longer and more comfortably.”

Marie’s paperwork with Senior Life was not completed until March 1, but in the interim, she was not able to get x-rays of her lungs that had been scheduled with her previous medical provider in Altoona because of a lack of transportation.

When finally admitted to Senior Life, Marie requested the x-rays on a daily basis. When the x-rays were finally completed, her nurse told her that there was some fluid in her lung. A PET scan was scheduled, but while waiting for that appointment the pain because so severe that Marie’s daughter Danelle decided to take her mother to the emergency room. On the phone with staff at Senior Life before the ER trip, she was labeled “insubordinate” for making that choice.

At the ER, Marie was immediately given an IV of pain medication and told that she could have died from congestive heart failure. Marie was kept in the hospital for 10 days, and doctors removed three liters of fluid from her lung. A PET scan and biopsy was scheduled after her release from the hospital.

On her second visit to the ER, Marie was again admitted to the hospital for nine days and received a diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer.

Marie grew up in the Bellefonte area. As a teenager she waited tables and some of her fondest memories were of waiting Joe Paterno’s table, who came in before all the games. Born in Maine, Marie moved to Pennsylvania at a young age. Danelle is her only child and she is the grandmother of four.

Senior Life did not follow through on their promise to Marie, it seems she’s probably not the only one. According to a review from a former employee of Senior Life on the website Glass Door: “Encourages identifying needs of [patients] and how to avoid obtaining them. They prey on weak minded, financially troubled, mostly demented elderly. The state should re-think this type of healthcare.”

Although she is in the process of removing her mother from Senior Life’s care, Danelle feels that company’s practices should be investigated by the state. “Maybe if they had caught this in February instead of July, my mother’s life would have been extended into 2016 or beyond,” remarked Danelle.

To pledge to Marie’s crowdfunding page and support her in finding comfort, go to Marie’s Pledge to My Family .

On behalf of the Membership Assembly Planning Team we are so excited to have you at the Third Annual Put People First! PA Membership Assembly coming up on in York, PA at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, 925 S. George St., 17403. All of the information in this e-mail can also be found on the PPF blog.

This Membership Assembly marks a major milestone for all of us and we are excited to celebrate it with you. Here are just some of the exciting things that have happened over the past year:

  • We welcomed Sheila Quintana as the Field Organizer for Philadelphia and Southeast PA
  • We launched the Fayette Health Justice Campaign working in partnership with the Human Rights Coalition and the Center for Coalfield Justice and travelled to Fayette, Washington and Greene counties on a statewide tour.
  • We added a new team – the Political Education and Leadership Development Team
  • We received funding support from the DentaQuest Foundation for our inclusion of oral health as part of the overall human right to health and our grassroots engagement strategy
  • We participated in and supported the Mission of Mercy pop-up dental clinic in Harrisburg that served over 1,000 PA residents
  • We launched a healthcare survey focused on rising healthcare costs, dental care, and access to care for undocumented people
  • We hosted all of our statewide partners for a Healthcare Collaborative Convening in Philadelphia
  • We had our first ever Organizing Institute in Lancaster
  • We launched the Leadership Across Difference Project to train leadership that can unite people across our differences and undo oppressive conditioning
  • We created the Campaign Advisory Board to bring together organizing committee members, partners, staff, coordinators, and team members to one strategy table
  • We redesigned our website and updated our membership and dues system
  • We conducted a statewide membership call each month to build relationships and engage in training and leadership development
  • We conducted an analysis of the legislature matching relevant legislators and committees with districts where our members reside
  • We knocked on hundreds of doors, tabled and visited with dozens of new people throughout Southeast, Central, and Southwest PA

Which brings us to the present! Here are 12 things you need to know about the assembly:

    1. Linked you’ll find two articles – one short and one long. Please read what you have time for.
    2. Also attached to this e-mail is the PPF Core Document which has information about our history and strategy.
    3. If you volunteered for any role/task at the assembly, a Coordinator will be following up with you. Please feel free to be in touch with them in advance as well. See below for Coordinators and contact information. Please bring instruments and games that we can enjoy together.
    4. Registration and breakfast begin at on Saturday and our assembly starts at 9 am. Please plan accordingly to arrive on time if you are coming in Saturday morning. If you are arriving on Sunday morning, please check in with your Organizer for details about where to meet the group. If you’re only coming for a day but need housing the night before, please get in touch with the housing coordinator ASAP. Drivers can be reimbursed for gas and tolls with receipts. Please bring the receipts with you.
    5. Childcare, food, transportation, and accommodations are provided. You’ll be receiving information about transportation and accommodations this week.
    6. Young people are welcome at the assembly! Childcare will be coordinated by trained providers with full background clearances. Please bring games and toys that your children enjoy.
    7. Everyone who needs a bed and closed door room to sleep in for any reason as well as elders and people with religious requirements will be provided one.
    8. We are following the food preferences that you provided in your registration form. Feel free to bring some of your own food items, there will be refrigerators and freezers at the Membership Assembly location as well as housing locations. We are providing breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturday and breakfast and lunch on Sunday. We will be ending before dinnertime on Sunday
    9. What should you bring? a) Toiletries b) Sunscreen/bug spray if you feel that you need it – we will be spending some, but not a lot of time outside c) Air mattress/sleeping bag if you have it d) Paper/pen or device to write notes e) Your contribution to the assembly if you pledged one (cash preferred) f) games, toys, instruments, etc. g) festive and costume-wear (depicting sick people and people from various walks of life) for our street theater activity at the York Fair on Sunday morning – including fun/festive hats, suits/dress-up gear, work uniforms, graduation caps and gowns, crutches, slings and braces, etc.
    10. Our opening activity will be a spirit-building exercise “Who are you here for?” Reflect before the assembly on why you are a part of Put People First and why our work matters to you. During the opening go-round we will share with the group who we’re here for. This could be groups of people, people who live in a certain place or share a certain identity or experience, or specific people. The intention here is to ground ourselves in our lived realities and share with each other why this community and this movement matters to us. During the opening we will also be sharing our preferred gender pronoun, to acknowledge and respect the rights of our members to gender self-determination.
    11. We will be live-streaming the assembly. If you know of people who can’t make it but who have internet access and want to watch and listen in, please let us know.
    12. We have a shared playlist for the Membership Assembly on Spotify. If you’re on Spotify and you’d like us to share it with you or if you have ideas for tunes that are uplifting, powerful and speak to our values, let us know and we’ll add them to the list!

Here, again, are the readings for the Membership Assembly:

If you have questions about any of this: your housing/sleeping arrangements, food, childcare, etc, please email us at info@putpeoplefirstpa.org and we’ll connect you with the person coordinating that part of the Assembly.