Written by Anna Cibils, PPF Base Building and Fundraising Teams

Last weekend (June 3rd-5th), eight Put People First! PA members from Pittsburgh, Johnstown, York, and Philadelphia volunteered at the Mission of Mercy (MOM-n-PA) Dental Clinic in Pittsburgh. MOM is a free dental clinic that happens once a year in different parts of Pennsylvania and provides comprehensive dental care to folks who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it. Hundreds of people from the area who either have no dental insurance or who can’t afford to pay extremely high deductibles on their existing insurance came out to the Pittsburgh Convention Center to get the care they needed. PPF members volunteered in many capacities including as patient ambassadors and interpreters.

When we weren’t volunteering, we listened to patients tell stories of their experiences with the health system and engaged in conversations about the possibilities that would exist if universal healthcare was a reality in Pennsylvania. We also used the Healthcare Survey that PPF developed in 2015 to collect stories from about 50 people about how rising healthcare costs are affecting their ability to meet their basic needs. Several conversations stand out in my memory, including one with a woman who had been at the clinic since 4 A.M. who expressed her frustration at the power of insurance companies to set arbitrary deductible rates that had made it impossible for her to get the treatment she needs. Another patient I spoke with was adamant about the fact that it is unjust for wealthier people to have access to better care and we talked for a long time about why we are in favor of universal healthcare.

Bahjah and Kim help with check-in at Mission of Mercy 2016 in Pittsburgh.

I volunteered as a Spanish interpreter at MOM and in this role I was reminded of the lack of knowledge that exists in the healthcare field regarding barriers that lower income and undocumented immigrants face in accessing health care. I spent all of Saturday interpreting for an immigrant family who was able to get care that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to receive, but who also needed more care than the clinic was able to provide that day. I was especially grateful in that moment to be volunteering as a member of PPF, because we were able to connect the family to an immigrant rights and advocacy group in Pittsburgh who agreed to assist the family in finding resources for continued care.

I’m thankful for the partnership that PPF and MOM have developed over the years, so that we can reach Pennsylvanians most affected by the current healthcare crisis.

For me, this trip reaffirmed the importance of Put People First! PA’s work, because it’s not enough for dental care to be treated as a human right in Pennsylvania only once a year. I’m excited to see how the connections we made this weekend lead to emerging PPF leaders in Western PA, which will allow us to continue building power across Pennsylvania to transform our health system and break isolation for people who face a daily battle to meet their basic needs.

A special thank you to PPF members and friends who hosted us in Pittsburgh, including Dawn Plummer and Diana Polson, Eve Wider, and friends of our newest field organizer Ben Fiorillo!

Today, PPF members delivered 500 signatures from Pennsylvanians in 26 counties who are requesting a public hearing before any new rate increases on Affordable Care Act/Marketplace (Obamacare) plans are approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance.

Also today, insurance companies’ initial requests for rate increases were made public here. As you can see, increases of up to 48% are requested. We want a lot more people to know this information so please spread the word about this site.IMG_20160525_120629095_TOP


Sean and Nijmie on the road to Harrisburg. “500 + say YES to a Public Hearing”


Rich of the York Organizing Committee shows David Buono, the Insurance Department’s Consumer Liaison a map with stickers on the 26 counties where residents are calling for a public hearing.

Below, Zack displays the heap of petition signatures as we talk to David. David asked us to pass along huge thanks to all the work that went into creating this effort and the many conversations and stories shared along the way.

Our conversation was friendly but we know that the increasing cost of care is a life and death issue in our communities. We are serious about real participation in and accountability for the decisions that impact our lives.

We let him know that we’re not finished until the PID joins the 500 in saying YES to a #PIDratehearing. Look out for next steps in your e-news and sign up for PPF e-mails to stay in the loop!


PA Residents Request Hearing Before Healthcare Premium Increases

Over 500 PA residents from 26 counties sign petition requesting the PA Insurance Department hold public hearings on the impact of premium increases



Nijmie Dzurinko (484) 619-2306


Who: Put People First! PA, a statewide membership organization of individuals and families united for health and dignity.

When: Wednesday, May 25

Where: PA Department of Insurance, Strawberry Square, Harrisburg


What: On Wednesday, May 25, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, headed by Commissioner Teresa Miller, will release preliminary information about 2017 rate increases requested by health insurance companies. This is the first step in a process that will continue through the summer ending in the final approval of new rates for 2017.


In 2016, approved increases of up to 26.7% impacted over 150,000 residents. For example, Geisinger Health Plan and Geisinger Quality Options requested hikes of 40.6% and 58.4%, respectively. Each was approved for a 20% increase. Amanda, a Philadelphia resident with a Keystone Health Plan policy has seen her premium more than double from $80/mo. to $212/mo. over the past two years.


Put People First! PA (PPF-PA), a membership organization of everyday people throughout the state, has talked to hundreds of individuals and families like her for whom rising costs are increasingly making affordable healthcare out of reach.


“We’re going to the PA Insurance Department today to share with Commissioner Miller and her staff the names and hometowns of 500 people who want the opportunity to speak publicly about how healthcare costs are impacting them before any new increases are approved,” Rich Burrill of York, PA, said.


“More people need to be aware of what’s going on. It’s not fair to receive a notice in the mail or your next bill stating that your premiums have gone up when you never got the chance to weigh in,” PPF-PA member Danelle Morrow of Johnstown, PA, remarked. “People are having to choose between paying for healthcare and paying for rent or buying food.”


“We’ve been speaking with the department since September 2015 about the need for a public hearing. We’ve held our own town hall, met with them in Harrisburg, shared dozens of stories and they’ve been very receptive. Now they have the opportunity to step up and increase participation, accountability and transparency with public hearings,” Nijmie Dzurinko, co-founder and member of PPF-PA, said.


Today, summaries of the increases requested by insurance corporations in PA are going up on this website: http://www.insurance.pa.gov/Consumers/HealthInsuranceFilings. The week of June 13, the full filings will be posted, which will launch a period where comments from the public can be submitted by email through July 29. Currently, a public hearing is not part of the process.


Over the past few months, the PA Insurance Department has held public hearings on balance billing — also known as “surprise” billing — and long-term care insurance.


Put People First members gather at the April 2016 Leadership Institute

Put People First members gather at the April 2016 Leadership Institute

by Krissy Mahan

I attended the Put People First Pennsylvania Leadership Institute on April 10, 2016, held at the Hafer Center of the Lancaster Theological Seminary. I am a new member of PPF, and I feel really lucky that I was able to meet so many dynamic people from all over Pennsylvania, and to learn in-person what PPF has going on state-wide.

The whole day was such a great way to see the scope and strength of all that Put People First Pennsylvania continues to build. I was flattered that I was asked to attend a leadership institute so early in my membership with PPF. But as I was there, I saw that one of the principles of PPF is to develop the leadership of its members, and for each member to see themselves as a leader in their geographic location and in their healthcare/social circumstances. This confidence in every member’s leadership capabilities made me feel very confident that I had made the right choice to join up with this organization.

I attended the morning session “Letter to the editor: How to use and leverage our voices in mainstream and local media to address the healthcare crisis.” This was particularly valuable to me, as my organizing activities often have to be done from home, because of eldercare. I learned about the large audience these letters can have, and how to write a letter effectively.

I also attended the session called “Sharing your healthcare story: Exposing the failures of the healthcare system through our personal story to organize and mobilize our communities.” This was an empowering session, because we learned a way to turn our difficulties into tools for movement-building and real change.

In the afternoon I attended the “Building Strong Organizing Committees” session with the Southwest Philadelphia OC. We talked about what specifically would be most helpful to build the movement where we live. Much of what we came up with could be grouped under “getting people we already know involved!” Another group of ideas centered around having information about PPF available at places where people go (and wait) who could bring their healthcare stories/strengths to PPF, for example hanging flyers at clinics, the pharmacy, and senior centers. After we returned to the large group, we discussed what makes a good “action” – an action meaning when organized people do an unusual activity in a public place to draw attention to their cause. We then moved into smaller groups based on topics for actions we were most interested in.

I moved back home unexpectedly last autumn to care for my mother as she endured a health crisis, and luckily found work. I don’t have a lot of time for extra things, but I am committed to social justice. I hoped to join a local movement that addresses and seeks to correct the unfair levels of vulnerability to healthcare problems, economic exploitation and incarceration that effect people both in urban and in rural areas. Put People First is fighting against all these problems. I love that that Put People First Pennsylvania is flourishing right here, in the birthplace of the genocidal, settler-colonial United States. I am proud to see PPF using compassionate grassroots organizing to create more just world.