Insurance Town Halls: Reflection from Altoona

By Danelle Morrow, PPF member in Johnstown, PA

On August 14th in Altoona, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department held the second of nine promised Town Hall meeting about ACA/Obamacare insurance rate hikes. We won these Town Halls — making them an official part of the rate-setting process — after more than a year of organizing and putting pressure on the PID and insurance companies.

The Altoona Town hall was a successful gathering, with about 25 people in attendance, about 6 of us from PPF. There were several residents that learned about the meeting though a letter to the editor that was published in 5 counties, and it is clear they have some serious concerns. The insurance department answered many questions, and it is clear they are feeling pressure to take the side of the people and not the companies. Stating that, if they don’t make the adjustments (rate increases) that insurance companies have requested, it is possible the companies will pull out of the ACA completely, leaving us with no insurance companies to choose from. To us, that sounds like the insurance companies trying to hold us hostage. Still leaving with unanswered questions, that I’m not sure anybody could answer, the fight carries on.

Though I feel the Town Hall was a success, I feel there should have been more open space for individuals to speak out: too much time in the meeting was taken up with presentations and explanations from the PID, instead of with the stories and concerns of residents. I also wish that the insurance companies themselves had showed up: we wanted the chance to address them directly, so they could see how their demands and their high profits are affecting us. We continue to learn and find ways to strategize after every action and we will continue seeking the change in policy needed to win health care for every person in PA!

Something I noticed at the Altoona Town Hall was that most of the people that attended on their own were seniors, and even veterans. There were not many people there under the age of 50. I would like to encourage the younger people of this state to attend a Town hall in your area to show the Insurance Department that you care, that you feel health care is a Human Right. We can say it all we want, until we prove that it really matters they are not going to take us seriously. On that note, there were a few in Altoona that felt that Health care is not a Human Right, and this was the perfect opportunity to find out why they feel that way and challenge their way of thinking. As young people in PA, we need to stand up NOW to save the future for our children, so they do not have to suffer with the same struggles we have come to know as the norm.

To learn about upcoming Town Halls in your area, sign up for our email list.

Dozens Protest ACA Insurance Rate Hikes at IBX Headquarters

On November 3, dozens of Philadelphians demonstrated outside the corporate headquarters of Independence Blue Cross at the height of rush hour traffic in Center City to speak out against rising Affordable Care Act premium rates that are impacting residents across Pennsylvania. Members of grassroots organization Put People First! PA were joined by union allies from the SEIU Home Care Workers Union and Pennsylvania Federation BMW-ED. “Healthcare costs – they’re affecting everyone. This is what our brothers and sisters at [SEPTA Union] TWU Local 234 are fighting for,” said Robert Fields, of Southwest Philadelphia.

img_5778

Looming above the crowd was a 12-foot puppet of Independence Blue Cross CEO Daniel Hilferty, who makes $4 million dollars a year. With this as the backdrop, members and friends of Put People First spoke to the impact that rising premium was having on their ability to pay for basic necessities.

“After 8 months of pressure by Put People First, the State Insurance Department held its first ever public hearing on rising premium costs [on ACA plans] in Harrisburg this July.” said Karim Sariahmed, a medical student at Temple University. “But despite a petition with over 500 signatures and testimony from dozens of PA residents, the Department gave Blue Cross an even bigger rate increase than they asked for! It’s clear to us that the PA Insurance Department is on the side of the big insurance companies, and not regular people who are struggling to afford care.”

Communities all across Pennsylvania are faced with an average increase of 32.5% for ACA individual plans. IBX asked for permission to increase their rates by 19.87%, and instead were approved for 27.97%, 40% more than they asked for. In a recent survey conducted by Put People First! PA, which included Pennsylvania residents from over 40 counties, more than 1 in 3 said that in the last 12 months healthcare costs forced them to skip paying for basics like electricity and groceries.

Media Advisory: Philadelphians to Protest ACA Insurance Rate Hikes

13667734_1268636626494694_4144173747609038179_o

MEDIA ADVISORY

For release October 25th, 2016

Philadelphians to Protest ACA Insurance Rate Hikes

Who: Put People First! PA, a statewide grassroots organization bringing everyday people together to fight for health and dignity. More at www.putpeoplefirstpa.org

When: Thursday, October 27th, 4:30pm POSTPONED DUE TO WEATHER. New time: Thursday, November 3, 4:30pm

Where: Independence Blue Cross Corporate Headquarters – 1901 Market St., Philadelphia, PA 19103

This Thursday, members of Put People First! PA and other Philadelphia residents will gather outside of Independence Blue Cross’ (IBX) headquarters to protest the massive rate hikes slated to hit people buying insurance through the Affordable Care Act marketplace in 2017. They will speak out about the effects of rising insurance and health care costs on them and their families.

While insurance company CEOs like IBX’s Daniel Hilferty continue to make millions of dollars, communities all across Pennsylvania are faced with an average increase of 32.5% for ACA individual plans and 7.1% for small group plans. IBX petitioned the Insurance Department to increase their rates by 19.87%, and instead were approved for 27.97%, 40% more than they asked for. Pennsylvanians are already being forced to choose between paying for healthcare and paying for other necessities. In a recent survey conducted by Put People First! PA, which included Pennsylvania residents from over 40 counties, more than 1 in 3 said that in the last 12 months healthcare costs forced them to skip paying for basics like electricity and groceries.

This protest continues a campaign led by Put People First! PA to make healthcare a human right in Pennsylvania. Earlier this year, the campaign successfully pressured the Insurance Department to hold its first ever public hearings on ACA rate increases. On Thursday, that effort to put the lives and experiences of regular people at the center of decisions about health care will continue.

For more information, contact Zachary Hershman at zachary.hershman@gmail.com

2017 Insurance Rates: Will they be a Trick or a Treat?

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.