by Hilary O’Connell, Philly, and Campaign Team
Photo: Put People First Members from Philly and South Central PA staged a die-in outside Independence Blue Cross (IBX) Headquarters in Philadelphia, demanding IBX’s attendance at the Southeast PA Town Hall. Credit: Chris Baker Evens
At a Put People First meeting this spring, Robert, a leader from Southwest Philadelphia, pushed us all to hold the Pennsylvania Insurance Department (PID) accountable to create transparency and participation in the “rate review process”: The annual procedure where the PID determines how much insurance companies can charge for Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) plans for individuals and small groups. We won our 2016 campaign for the first public hearing in PA on ACA rates, and we knew that this year we needed to do more. So we sprang into action. In less than three months, we advocated for, planned, and pulled off not one, but five powerful Town Halls all across Pennsylvania — in people’s communities, and at times when working people could attend.
Our efforts paid off: Over 150 people attended Town Halls in Bucks, Northumberland, Blair, York and Allegheny Counties.
The Town Halls achieved many of Put People First’s goals: 1) We built our base and connections with partners across the state. 2) We made the invisible visible by exposing insurance companies as the true power-holders behind PID. 3) We developed and enriched leaders across PPF. And 4) we increased accountability, transparency and participation in the rate review process. This was a clear win. Reflecting on this victory, we ask: Why did we win? How can we win again? The answer is simple: At each step of the process, we all moved together.
This victory belongs to every PPF committee, team, and member.
Karim Sariahmed, a PPF member in Sunbury, opened testimony at the first Town Hall and set the tone for the storytelling that followed: “All of us know people who get sick, and many who die, because they don’t have insurance. And I really want the weight of that to be in the room with us when we’re talking about the decisions that get made about our lives, and our insurance plans.”
Members from across the state testified at the four Town Halls that followed, delivering powerful stories of our struggles. Pittsburgh member Julia Willis spoke: “This is not a humane system. It’s not taking care of us. Healthcare is a human right.” As Philadelphia member Adrienne Standley testified, “I know [PID] isn’t able to change the prices, or tell them what to charge. But I’m not able to afford to go to the doctor.” We insisted the PID recognize our lives are on the line. Each time someone told their story, you could see audience members nodding their heads in agreement.
Through this victory, we forced the PID and the insurance companies to acknowledge Put People First as a powerful voice in PA. While insurance companies themselves did not come to the town halls as we requested, we did receive a request from Independence Blue Cross in to meet in Southeast PA as a result of our pressure.
The Town Halls were an important and successful milestone in the process of building a mass movement in Pennsylvania of everyday people who are clear that healthcare is a human right. As we push forward, we’ll continue to bring people together to speak truth to power. The PID and insurance companies will have to learn: HEALTHCARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT! WE WON’T STOP WITHOUT A FIGHT!