*For Immediate Release*
Put People First! PA
HUNDREDS TURN OUT LOCALLY FOR “MEDICAID MARCHES” IN JOHNSTOWN, ALTOONA, PITTSBURGH, PHILADELPHIA, WILKES-BARRE, MONTCO, AND LANCASTER PA
MARCHES RESPOND TO GOV. WOLF’S PROPOSED HEALTHCARE REFORMS, CALL FOR IMMEDIATE EXPANSION OF MEDICAID TO ALL RESIDENTS AND THE ESTABLISHMENT OF A PUBLIC HEALTHCARE ADVOCATE, DEMAND JUSTICE FOR VICTIMS OF HEALTHCARE PROFITEERING AND OTHER FORMS OF STATE VIOLENCE
Medicaid Marches Go National: Spread To Alabama, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin for First Time In 2020 as part of the launch of the National Nonviolent Medicaid Army
Put People First! PA, a grassroots human rights organization with nine Healthcare Rights Committees representing members across Pennsylvania, held “MEDICAID MARCHES” in seven locations across the state during the first week of October, calling on Governor Wolf to apply for a federal waiver to expand Medicaid to all PA residents to ensure universal coverage, and calling on the Governor and legislature to support the creation of a Public Healthcare Advocate that will fight for the healthcare rights of everyday Pennsylvanians. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that over 1 million PA residents will lose employer sponsored health coverage as a result of the economic crisis, meaning the demand for Medicaid will skyrocket. (1) At the same time, facing a 5 billion dollar budget deficit, the PA legislature is already looking to take aim at Medicaid with bills like HB 2476 and HB 2857.
The marches also responded with concern to Governor Wolf’s aptly timed Health Reform Plan announcement. “Governor Wolf’s draft plan creates new commissions and councils. These bodies will benefit from an Advocate who will work directly with the public to fight for our rights and hold state agencies and profiteers accountable,” said Tammy Rojas, of Lancaster. “The Public Healthcare Advocate proposal we created has been vetted by several dozen Representatives and Senators and has bi-partisan support,” she added.
“Governor Wolf needs to act immediately to address the COVID-19 crisis by applying for a Federal Waiver to expand Medicaid to all residents of PA, and improve oversight of our fractured, profit-seeking healthcare system by passing legislation to establish an Office of the Public Healthcare Advocate”, agreed Dr. Sharrelle Barber of Philadelphia.
The nonviolent, masked, socially-distanced marches demonstrated the connections between all forms of state violence against the poor, linking the crisis of extra-judicial police violence, lack of housing, and mass incarceration to the more than 200,000 people in the US who have been killed by COVID-19 as a result of healthcare profiteering and neglect, all of which disproportionately impact poor and working class Pennsylvania residents, especially people of color. Even before COVID-19, approximately 45,000 people in the US died a year from a lack of health insurance (2) and according to a 2019 survey, 25% of people delayed serious medical care because of skyrocketing costs. (3)
In Philadelphia, demonstrators marched several blocks from the site of the new Police Headquarters to the shuttered Hahnemann Hospital, demanding that the city reinvest the $300 million slated for the renovation of the headquarters to seize and re-open the hospital. Former staff and patients of the Public Health Management Corporation (PHMC) spoke out about union-busting practices that have harmed both staff and patients. PHMC is the agency Governor Wolf awarded the contract as Pennsylvania’s Healthcare Emergency Preparedness Vendor.
In Lancaster, which recently suffered a wave of police violence following the extra-judicial killing of Ricardo Munoz during a mental-health check on September 13th, demonstrators marched to the recently shuttered and re-zoned St. Joseph’s Hospital, where residents decried the elimination of mental-health and other critical healthcare services and demanded permanent housing for unhoused residents of Binns Park.
In Johnstown, marchers protested the City Council’s decision to increase the Police Dept. budget by $250,000, demanding the money be allocated for a crisis response team of health and social workers to intervene where police aren’t needed.
“The police are not trained or qualified to replace public health and mental health services.” said Maddy Burrows, Johnstown Healthcare Rights Committee co-coordinator, citing the case of George Corson Jr. who was beaten by police over the summer after they were called by Conemaugh Hospital.
“Police killings, profiteering hospitals and insurance companies are all forms of state-sponsored violence that benefit the rich at the expense of the poor.” said Briann Moye of Pittsburgh. “Healthcare companies are concerned with their bottom-line, not our health, and the police who protect their property are allowed to kill poor people, especially people of color, with impunity.”
In Pittsburgh, demonstrators demanded UPMC pay their back-taxes to the city, absolve medical debt and be transparent about their billion dollar bailout. In Montgomery County, demonstrators targeted Aetna Insurance’s offices in Blue Bell, which denied crucial medication to 2 leaders in Put People First! PA and countless others. Altoona marchers demonstrated at UPMC, and in Wilkes-Barre marchers called for reform outside the city’s police headquarters.
The demonstrations, which attracted hundreds of participants across the state and over 5,000 views on social media, were led by Put People First! PA and joined by local groups and partner organizations in the PA Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival (PPC:NCMR), of which Put People First! PA is a coordinating member.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicaid Marches are also being held for the first time in Kansas, North Carolina, Alabama, New York, Maine, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, and other states as part of the nationwide launch of the Nonviolent Medicaid Army, a growing national movement of poor and dispossessed people uniting around the demands for Medicaid for All and an end to all forms of state violence.