by Benita Campbell, Ande Ciampa and Anita Knisely-Durham of the PPF-PA Campaign/Legislative Team

On May 13th, 2024, Put People First! PA (PPF-PA) hosted Pennsylvania’s first Public Healthcare Advocate Forum (PHA)!  Co-sponsored by Partners for Dignity & Rights and members of the PA Poor People’s Campaign, the event brought together healthcare advocates from Nevada and Connecticut, state legislators, representatives from several state offices, and everyday people from PPF-PA and other working class organizations.  Our members spoke to some of the many healthcare struggles facing Pennsylvanians, while the advocates from other states showed how offices like theirs play crucial roles in ensuring access to healthcare, preventing and alleviating medical debt, and holding healthcare profiteers accountable.

Drawing inspiration from states like Nevada and Connecticut, PPF-PA began to envision a Public Healthcare Advocate in our state in 2018.  But, just what is a Public Healthcare Advocate, and how did we get here?

A Public Healthcare Advocate, or PHA, is a public office that protects patients and workers in the healthcare system, helps people appeal harmful decisions by healthcare companies and state agencies, and helps lawmakers better understand and improve our healthcare system.  After winning the first public hearing on rising insurance premiums from the Pennsylvania Insurance Department in 2016, followed by statewide town halls in 2017, we realized that the systems supposedly in place to defend residents were really fighting for the interests of insurance companies!  We knew that we needed someone to represent us, everyday people, at the state level and began organizing for a Public Healthcare Advocate. Since then, PPF-PA has held advocacy days in Harrisburg, met with legislators and State officials to discuss our vision, and drafted detailed legislation to bring about a robust Advocate’s office, guided by a community advisory board.  May’s forum was a vital step forward for the PHA, connecting a bipartisan audience of PA lawmakers with two representatives from long standing offices who outlined just how powerful and successful advocates can be.

Reflecting on his office’s work in 2023, Connecticut’s Sean King reported a 70% success rate in appeals and over $4.6 million in recovered costs for residents. Khadyja Carter of Nevada highlighted similar accomplishments for her team. In 2023, Nevada’s Office of Consumer Health Assistance opened 1450 advocacy cases and saved residents nearly $2 million. These offices are not only effective at assisting people; they are also sustainable institutions, recouping far more money than is needed to operate them (Figure 1).

Figure 1: CT OHA Savings vs. Budget

A Public Healthcare Advocate in PA would no doubt achieve similar successes and be a champion of our class and a regulator of those who try to profit off our sickness and misfortune.  We will continue to fight for our own advocate because we know that healthcare is a crisis for all of us and we need real representation in Harrisburg.  Already, this struggle has strengthened our organization and partnerships and has helped us to unify everyday people across many lines of division, and while the work ahead will challenge us, it will also help us grow further.  To that we say, “Forward Together!”

Click here to learn more about the Public Healthcare Advocate through these info graphics from the Spring/Summer Keystone 2021!

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