Press Release: Human Rights Town Hall in Kingsessing, Philadelphia

Contact: Sheila Quintana
Who: Southwest Philadelphia Organizing Committee of Put People First! PA
When: Thursday, November 12th, 6pm
Where: Kingsessing Recreation Center, 49th and Kingsessing Ave, Philadelphia, PA


In response to the ongoing healthcare crisis faced by the Kingsessing community in Southwest Philadelphia, as well as other communities across the city, state, and country, the Southwest Philadelphia Organizing Committee of Put People First! PA held a Human Rights Town Hall at the Kingsessing Recreation Center, a hub of community activism. Twenty-five community members joined together calling for a real say in the healthcare system, and fairness, transparency and accountability when it comes to accessing care and rising healthcare costs.

Residents shared powerful stories and discussed ways to shift the balance of power toward our communities in building a system in which healthcare is a human right.

Ruth Scott of Southwest Philly shared her story about seeking treatment for epilepsy. “Does she have coverage?” she remembers hearing providers ask while she was having a seizure. “I was treated like a product, I wanted to cry,” she said. Despite having insurance coverage, Scott recounted her experience being forced to choose between buying essential medicines and food.

Scott’s experience was echoed in responses to the first phase of a statewide health-care survey conducted by Put People First! PA. “More than one in three people surveyed in Southwest Philadelphia said that in the last 12 months alone, the cost of medical care forced them to skip paying for basic things like electric bills and groceries,” remarked Southeast PA organizer Sheila Quintana.

According to the most recent Community Health Assessment, the Kingsessing community has a poverty rate of 37% and the life expectancy of residents is a full 6 years less than people living in Center City.

“When you’re born, it should be a human right that you should have healthcare,” Gloria Turner of Southwest Philadelphia said at the town hall. “It shouldn’t be about money; all of us should be cared for in the same way.”

But even for the insured, the cost of care is going up. Health insurance premium increases in Pennsylvania on ACA Marketplace plans have been approved to take effect on January 1, 2016 up to 26.7%. Plans approved for increases of over 20% will impact over 150,000 people across the state. This means that over 1/3 of people currently enrolled in ACA plans will either be paying more or forced to navigate the marketplace to pick plans with lower prices which usually means higher deductibles and worse coverage.

“There is no public input into these decisions yet they impact so many people. Whether you have an employer plan, an ACA plan, Medicare, Medicaid or even the VA, health-care costs are going up for everyone,” remarked Robert Fields, Southwest Philadelphia Organizing Committee member.

Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller has stated that she is open to doing a public hearing next year but that no hearing will happen this year.

Put People First! PA is a statewide, grassroots organization that builds the leadership, power and unity of everyday people across lines of difference in our state.

When: Thursday November 12th, 6pm
Where: Kingsessing Recreation Center (49th St. and Kingsessing Ave. Philadelphia, PA)

Health insurance premiums on Affordable Care Act plans are increasing this year throughout Pennsylvania. Many of us are already struggling to get the health care we need for ourselves and our families. Premium increases on ACA Marketplace plans have been approved to take effect on January 1, 2016 ranging between 0 and 26.7%. Plans approved for increases of over 20%, including Geisinger, Highmark, and Keystone Health Plan West will impact over 150,000 people across the state. This means that over 1/3 of people currently enrolled in ACA plans will either be paying more or forced to navigate the marketplace to pick plans with lower prices which usually means higher deductibles and worse coverage. On Novermber 12th, the Southwest Philadelphia Organizing Committee is convening a Human Rights Town Hall in the Kingsessing neighborhood to examine the impacts of insurance companies’ power over our experience of healthcare.

We recently testified at a hearing on surprise medical billing held by the PA Insurance Department and asked Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller to hold a hearing on the proposed rate increases but were told that the decisions were already made. She said that she is open to doing a public hearing next year. We decided to hold our own town hall and invite her and others to attend.

At the hearing, Philadelphia residents will receive information about how insurance operates in Pennsylvania and share their stories about coverage and care. We’ll shine a spotlight on the recent statewide insurance rate increases which happened without public input. Our intention is to build momentum for greater accountability and transparency moving forward.  We’ll also show how our human right to health care is connected to our struggles to win all of our human rights: to education, to housing, to good nutritious food, to a healthy environment, and others. You can RSVP for the Town Hall here.

Put People First! PA will also be offering support with getting enrolled in an Affordable Care Act/Obamacare insruance plan (enrollment opens November 1st) or in Medicaid (which was recently expanded in PA). Blood pressure and blood sugar level screenings will also be available.

This town hall is part of an ongoing series of community meetings and hearings around the state. The first was in Gettysburg in December 2014, and focused on the stories of immigrants and undocumented people. They’ll be a way for us to voice our common challenges, build up our vision of what a health care system based in our human rights and human needs would really look like, and build a strategy for collective power. They’re also a place for us to see that we’re not alone in our struggles, to support each other, and to continue coming together and getting organized to fight for our human rights.

The Kingsessing community is getting organized and speaking out on our experiences of the health care system and the nature of the insurance companies. We hope that with this hearing our Southwest Philly Organizing Committee can continue to grow and build deep connections with our community. Please join us on November 12th, and remember to RSVP!

Kingsessing Human Rights Town Hall New

If you have questions about the hearing or about the Southwest Philly Organizing Committee, you can email Sheila Quintana at You can also download a printable flyer for the Town Hall here.

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.