Working America Health Care has got you covered — before, during and after enrollment

The following post was written by Amy Lynn Smith and was originally posted on Eclectablog

The clock is ticking on 2015 open enrollment for health insurance. With the February 15th deadline approaching fast, the time to act is now if you’re not already covered. But getting health insurance is only the beginning. Then you have to put your benefits to good use.

Working America has got your back. The Working America Health Care program is designed to provide all the support you need before, during and after the process of buying insurance. Plus, when you enroll through the program, you’ll be eligible for a wide variety of additional benefits not available anywhere else — at no extra cost.

According to Tony Cheng, assistant director of Working America, the goal of the program is not only to help people sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but to make sure they have a great experience with whatever plan they sign up for.

We’re going at the intent of the law, which isn’t just helping people sign up but helping people lead healthier lives.

We want to be there to help people understand what health care reform really means, helping them sign up for whichever insurance plan meets their needs, and helping them use their benefits after they sign up. We’ll make sure they always have someone on their side.

Working America Health Care is a joint partnership between Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, and Union Plus, which was created by the AFL-CIO to develop consumer benefits, discounts, and services for more than 13 million current and retired union members.

You do NOT have to be the member of any union to take advantage of Working America Health Care, but you’ll automatically become a Working America member if you sign up for coverage through the program.

Through Working America Health Care, consumers are guided through the insurance shopping process by a licensed professional with GoHealth, one of the country’s largest online brokers.

“The reason they’re so good is that they aren’t working on commission, so there’s no pressure to sign up for a particular plan,” says Roland Leggett, Michigan program director for Working America. “They’re only there to make sure you get the best plan for you and your family. It empowers people who need insurance.”

Leggett says it only takes about 30 minutes to go through the enrollment process, although you can take time to weigh your options before completing your enrollment. Every step of the way, you’ll have expert guidance to help you navigate the sometimes confusing process of buying health insurance.

“We want to help people understand what the ACA means, what to look for when they sign up — how to keep their doctor if they want to, or the additional costs involved in each plan, such as co-pays and deductibles,” says Cheng. “We want to help folks understand the big picture.”

Once enrollment is complete, Working America provides access to an independent, personal health care advocate who can help you coordinate your care, resolve claims and answer questions about coverage.

Leggett explains:

Especially if you’ve never had insurance before, you may need help navigating the system. Your health advocate can answer questions about coverage and claims, and help you negotiate medical bills. There’s even a union nurse available by phone to help you decide what kind of care you need if you’re sick.

Working America Health Care also provides vision and dental discounts, which are a great resource if you don’t purchase vision or dental coverage — but the discounts apply even if you do. These discounts can save you up to 60 percent on dental care and up to 35 percent on vision exams and glasses.

What’s more, through Union Plus you’ll be eligible for a wide range of other discounts on everything from health club memberships to mortgage assistance, and much more.

You’ll also become part of the Working America family, which connects you to the work they’re doing to lift up the middle class through efforts such as raising the minimum wage, funding education and holding politicians accountable. As Leggett says, “We’re empowering folks to be part of the political process.”

Right now, Working America Health Care has an on-the-ground presence in 17 cities, including Detroit, where it goes out into communities through a variety of events and partnerships, reaching out to union members, small businesses and individuals. Assistance is also available by phone or online nationwide.

After open enrollment concludes on February 15th, Working America Health Care will continue assisting people who are eligible for a special enrollment period due to a life change such as getting married or changing jobs.

“We can help people see if choosing a plan through the ACA might make more sense than using COBRA coverage to address a gap in coverage,” says Cheng. “And we’re talking all the time to early retirees who aren’t yet eligible for Medicare, and young people when they turn 26 and are no longer eligible for coverage on their parents’ plan.”

Both Cheng and Leggett urge anyone who still needs to enroll in coverage to do it now. Rather than waiting until the last minute, give yourself plenty of time to make the best decision for yourself and your family, says Cheng.

Our goal is first to make sure people know what’s available, and then to make sure they know how to use their health care after they sign up.

But we also want to make sure we’re moving forward in terms of health reform. Health care is a basic right and it’s under attack. If we don’t use it we lose it. We want to make sure people understand what’s at stake and are signing up.

Get started with Working America Health Care today! Call 855-698-2479 or visit the Working America Health Care website. Remember: 2015 open enrollment ends February 15th.

Follow Amy Lynn on Twitter at @alswrites

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We Have A Plan To Make Health Insurance Easy To Understand

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We all worked incredibly hard to pass health care reform in 2009 and 2010, and we’re proud to now see millions of Americans accessing high quality, affordable health insurance–many of them for the first time.

But some things haven’t changed. For many Americans, navigating their health insurance is just as complex and frustrating as it was before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. At Working America, we wanted to make sure that information and support before, during, and after enrollment was available to out more than 3 million members–and anyone else who needed it.

That’s why we created Working America Health Care.

By enrolling through Working America Health Care, you have access to licensed professionals that can connect you to almost all the health plan options on the Health Insurance Marketplace (aka Healthcare.gov). But for no additional cost, you also have access to hundreds of benefits available through our partners at Union Plus, including dental and vision discounts.

Most importantly, when you enroll in the Marketplace through Working America Health Care, you have access to a personal Health Advocate: a real person you can call to help navigate the complexities of your health insurance. For no additional cost.

Enrolling through us also makes you a member of Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO and the fastest growing organization for working families. Since our creation in 2003, we’ve successfully helped raised the wages of millions of workers, passed paid sick days laws and other worker protections, and helped elect dozens of pro-worker local, state, and federal candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Sherrod Brown, Al Franken, Mark Dayton, and Jeff Merkley.

And yes, this program is open to anyone who does not have a union on the job. That includes folks who are freelancers, unemployed, and retired too.

Want to find out more? Visit our website at workingamericahealthcare.org or call 855-698-2479. We’ll also answer as many questions as possible in the comments.

Bonus: Check out Amy Lynn Smith’s great coverage of Working America Health Care on Eclectablog!

Originally posted on DailyKos

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Republican House Bill Cuts Workers’ Health Care Coverage

Some 1 million workers could lose their employer-provided health insurance under a Republican bill (H.R. 30) passed by the House (252-172, with 12 Democrats crossing the aisle.) today. On top of stripping health care coverage from those workers, the bill also would add some $53.2 billion to the federal deficit over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The attack on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) comes just two days after Republicans approved legislation that could lead to cuts in Social Security disability and retirement benefits.

Under the ACA, large employers must provide health care coverage to employees who work 30 or more hours a week or they face a penalty. H.R. 30 kicks up the 30-hour threshold to 40 hours a week.

That increase, say health care experts, provides an incentive for employers to drop their 40-hour a week employees down to just 39 hours without a penalty and avoid any responsibility to offer health benefits.

UC Berkeley Labor Center study estimates there are 6.5 million people at risk of having their hours cut back under the Republican bill. That’s nearly three times the number (2.3 million) that are vulnerable to losing their hours under the current 30-hour threshold.

But even with the current 30-hour a week definition, some employers are cutting back the hours of workers—many of whom worked 30–36 hours a week—to duck providing health coverage and avoid paying the ACA’s penalty. The AFL-CIO and other groups support strengthening employer responsibility rules in the ACA.  Delegates to the AFL-CIO Convention 2013 approved a resolution on the ACA that includes a call for:

Applying a full employer penalty for failing to provide affordable comprehensive coverage to workers who average 20 or more hours per week and adding an employer penalty on a pro rata basis for employees who work fewer than 20 hours per week.

Since the ACA became law, the number of Americans with health insurance has increased by more than 10 million, with the majority of those receiving employer-provided health care. Since the law’s requirement for Americans to have health insurance went into effect a year ago, the percentage of uninsured has dropped from 17.1% to 12.9%.

H.R. 30 and a companion Senate bill that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) says he will have on the floor before the end of January will wipe out those gains. We’ll keep you posted on the Senate bill and how you can take action.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Last-Minute Questions on Applying for Health Insurance

By Nancy Metcalf – Reposted from ConsumerReports.org

What counts as income, and extended deadlines in several states

The weekend brought in a bunch of questions from people who were trying to beat the Dec. 15 deadline to buy or renew health insurance by Jan. 1, but were puzzled by what counts toward their income in 2015.

That’s an important number, because when you fill out your application, you have to give that estimate. It determines whether you will be eligible for tax credits to lower the cost of your insurance premiums.

One reader said she and her husband planned to live off their savings for the next year and wondered if they should put down what they planned to spend from that source. Another reader was unsure whether to report his total income from self-employment , or just his Adjusted Gross Income, which was considerably lower.

Fortunately, we have lots of resources to help answer those questions.

Here’s a full explanation of how to project and report your 2015 income, including what goes into it (and what doesn’t).

And here’s a handy visual aid we created: an annotated Form 1040 that will show exactly what counts and what doesn’t.

For instance, it clearly shows that the couple who wrote in should NOT report withdrawals from a regular savings account as income for 2015. But interest or dividend income those savings will earn will count. And so will any distributions they take from a 401(k) or tax-free Individual Retirement Account.

And the self-employed reader will see that it’s the Adjusted Gross Income at the bottom of the tax form that counts, not his total income.

Enrollment deadline extended in five states

And here’s a housekeeping note for people who live in Idaho, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Rhode Island. Their state-run Marketplaces have extended the deadline for purchasing or renewing health insurance if they want it to start on Jan. 1.

Here are the extended deadlines:

Idaho – Dec. 20

Maryland – Dec. 18

Massachusetts – Dec. 23

New York – Dec. 20

Rhode Island – Dec. 23

In all other states, the deadline is midnight on Dec. 15.

If you miss the cutoff in your state, you still can enroll in or switch plans up through Feb. 15. If you finish your application by Jan. 15, your new coverage will start Feb. 1. If you wait until after that, your coverage will start March 1.

Copyright © 2006-2014 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or part, without written permission.

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3 Pieces of Good News for Obamacare You Might Have Missed

Remember Obamacare? Also known as the Affordable Care Act? With news of conflict and tragedy dominating the airwaves, recent news about the sweeping new health care law has been getting swept under the rug.

That’s too bad, because here’s the basic headline: the Affordable Care Act is working, and consumers have a lot to look forward to when the next open enrollment period starts in November.

Here’s the rundown:

1.) More insurance companies are joining the exchanges. The health exchanges set up under the ACA work best when more insurance companies participate. More companies means more competition for your business, which ultimately means lower prices for consumers.

For instance, last year in New Hampshire there was only one company on the state exchange–not a recipe for healthy competition. Even so, signups exceeded expectations, and other companies are diving in to swoop up consumer dollars. For 2015 open enrollment (which begins on November 15, 2014), there will be not one more but four more companies on the New Hampshire exchange.

That’s happening across the country. In Michigan, there will be 18 companies for 2015 open enrollment versus 13 in 2014. In Indiana, consumers will have double the options to choose from. Major carriers like United, Aetna, and Cigna are wading into California’s exchange, which they previously sat out. Again, more competition means more options and lower prices for consumers.

2.) The ACA is massively cutting the rate of uninsured. Between the creation of state exchanges, the expansion of Medicaid in half the country, and the end of disgusting insurance practices (like denying insurance to those with pre-existing conditions), the Affordable Care Act is succeeding at its main goal: reducing the number of uninsured Americans.

Look at where we stand. The rate of uninsured in New Jersey is down 38 percent. In Minnesota, it’s down a whopping 40 percent. And in Kentucky, where Senator Mitch McConnell advocated full repeal of the ACA, the rate of uninsured has been cut in half.

What of predictions that all those consumers signing up wouldn’t pay their premiums? Charles Gaba, who runs ACASignups.net, has crunched the statewide data and estimates 90 percent of those who signed up on the exchanges have paid the first premiums.

3.) A majority of Americans want to keep the ACA. The Koch Brothers, the Republican Party, and the health insurance lobby itself have all spent massive amounts of money on a barrage of misinformation to convince the country that Obamacare is a government takeover, a socialist conspiracy, a massive waste of money, or the “worst thing since slavery,” depending on who you ask.

But as more and more people gain the peace of mind that health coverage brings, the misinformation loses its effectiveness.

A Bloomberg poll released on June 11 shows that 56 percent of Americansthink Obamacare “may need small modifications, but we should see how it works,” vs. 32 percent for repeal and 10 percent for leaving it be. The poll also finds 11 percent oppose the law because it didn’t go far enough.

And as we’ve seen since 2010, support for the actual components of the ACA is much higher: 55 percent support eliminating lifetime caps, 65 percent support changing rules on preexisting conditions, and 75 percent (!) support allowing children to remain on parents’ plans until 26.

As MSNBC’s Simon Maloy put it: “We’re only six days into June, and opponents of the ACA have already had a terrible month.” Which makes it a great month for consumers like you and me.

Visit WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org to find out more information on getting affordable coverage that works for you.

Photo by Obamacare on Facebook

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Ted Cruz Baits American People on ObamaCare, and Fails Miserably

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In a well-timed but poorly executed effort to attack the Affordable Care Act, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) took to his Facebook to sarcastically ask people whether or not they were better off since the inception of Obamacare.

Unexpectedly – at least for Sen. Cruz – an overwhelming number of people replied with a resounding YES.

One woman noted that her sister, a cancer survivor, will no longer be denied coverage and more than a few people mentioned the positive effects the ACA has had on whole families.

You can view more comments on Senator Cruz’s Facebook page.

Photo courtesy of Kent Williams via Flickr.

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New Hampshire Ends Cruel Denial of Medicaid Expansion, Maine May Follow

New Hampshire officially expanded its Medicaid program this week, enabling about 50,000 more people in the Granite State to afford health coverage.

Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan signed the bill into law on Thursday, enacting a bipartisan compromise plan that would use federal Medicaid funds to buy private coverage for adults making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty limit, rather than providing state-funded health insurance.

When the Supreme Court declared the Affordable Care Act constitutional in July 2012, they left the option open for states to reject the federal funds that would be used to expand their Medicaid programs. As of now, 25 states and the District of Columbia have accepted the expansion in full. 21 states, all with Republican governors or Republican-controlled legislatures, have formally rejected Medicaid expansion.

New Hampshire was one of six states where the final call had not yet been made on Medicaid expansion.

On the same day, legislators in Maine granted final passage to a bill that would expand Medicaid to about 70,000 low-income Mainers. The bill now goes to Republican Governor Paul LePage for his signature or veto.

LePage has expressed opposition to Medicaid in the past, calling it “sinful” just a few weeks ago. But many of his fellow Republicans don’t share this view:

Despite the references to different numbers and analyses, many lawmakers have conceded that support or opposition of the bill is as ideological as it is pragmatic.

The bill approved by the Legislature was crafted by moderate Republican Sens. Roger Katz of Augusta and Tom Saviello of Wilton as a compromise, designed to bring more Republicans on board.

Assistant State Majority Leader Anne Haskell (D-Portland) also pointed out that 10 other Republican governors, including Govs. John Kasich (R-OH) and Jan Brewer (R-AZ) have accepted expansion.

The last time a Medicaid expansion bill hit Gov. LePage’s desk in July 2013, he vetoed. Now, with more Republicans on board, we hope he makes a different choice.

Send a message: Tell Gov. LePage to accept federal Medicaid funds.

Photo by Governor Maggie Hassan on Facebook

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Get Health Insurance, Strengthen the Movement for Working Families. At. The. Same. Time.

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It’s exhausting. We know.

Trying to counter the misinformation about the Affordable Care Act AND trying to highlight out the few corporate donors pushing the lies AND holding the media accountable for inadequate coverage AND…

…all of a sudden, there are only a few days left to sign up for coverage for this year.

March 31 is the deadline to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. If you enroll before then, your insurance will start May 1. If not, you may have to wait until January 1, 2015.

Politics aside, this is the point of the new health care law: getting as many Americans as possible from fear and uncertainty of no coverage to the security of health insurance, thereby bringing down costs and making life better for all of us.

And while we’re bringing more people into the “insured” fold, we also have an opportunity to grow the movement that’s fighting to make our lives better in other areas: higher wages, paid sick days, and protections from indignity at the workplace.

That’s why Working America Health Care is working with GoHealth to bring affordable health insurance to uninsured Americans.

Enter your information at WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org and you can compare and contrast plans and enroll in minutes.

We also offer something extra: by signing up for a health plan through GoHealth, you’re invited to join Working America and gain access to added member benefits, like discounted dental and vision benefits and a personal health advocate to help you troubleshoot with your insurance company.

Plus, by becoming a Working America member, you have access to hundreds of benefits through Union Plus including discounts on car insurance, wireless service, legal assistance, and many more. A full list of Union Plus benefits available for Working America members can be viewed here.

But benefits aside, we all win when the movement for working families grows. By signing up for insurance through Working America, you’re also opting in to receive updates and opportunities to pursue goals we all share: raising the minimum wage, gaining rights at the workplace, countering corporate power at the ballot box, and changing the conversation about the value of work in our country.

So don’t delay! Sign up at WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org and find a plan that works for you. And if you’re lucky enough to have insurance, please email, share, tweet – whatever – this blog post to friends and family who might not be covered.

The Koch Brothers, the politicians, the talking heads–they’ll always be making noise. But let’s focus on the real goal: getting America enrolled, covered, and secure with health insurance.

Photo by italintheheart on Flickr

*The relationship with GoHealth does not include MA, RI, VT, WV, HI, WA, OR, and select counties in CO and OH. The personal health advocate service is not available in Hamilton, Lucas, Summit, Stark, Montgomery, and Mahoning counties in Ohio.

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7 Reflections On ACA Enrollment (With A Few Days Left To Sign Up)

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With a few days to go for Ohio’s uninsured to get signed up on the health insurance exchange, I’m poking my head out of the trenches to report back on my experience signing people up, and to let PB readers in Cincinnati and Canton know how they can enroll before the deadline.

I’ve been with Working America since enrollment began. We’re Champions of Coverage, meaning that our role is to identify uninsured Ohioans and make sure they have the information that they need in order to get signed up.

Primarily, we’re setting up enrollment fairs, where people can get help with the application, talk to a licensed insurance agent about the plans that are available, and sign up for coverage on the spot. And by signing up with a licensed agent through the Working America Health Care program, you’re joining thousands of others to advocate to continuously improve the health coverage that you receive.

Here’s a list of our enrollment events: make sure your friends know about them!

But, enough plugging. Here are two lists: one for wonky readers and one for activist readers… 

Four Things I’ve Learned While Signing People Up

1. People are happy with their premium. One of the biggest questions about ACA was whether people would feel like they’re getting a good deal. I’ve only talked to one person that didn’t like his premium, and he was one of the few that didn’t get a subsidy. He was still paying less than he did before, he just wanted it lower.

Almost everybody else feels like they’re getting a good deal.

2. People are not happy with the coverage their job provides. I get an awful lot of sign-ups from people whose job offers them a worse deal than they would get on the exchange. They’re either unhappy with the deductible, the premium, or the network. They want to sign up on the health exchange, but they don’t get a discount because they’re covered through work.

3. Ohioans haven’t heard anything about the law. Part of my rap is “what have you heard about signing up for coverage?” and still most people say “this is the first I’ve heard about the Affordable Care Act”. People are surprised to hear that they have to sign up, and even more surprised that they only have until March 31 to sign up.

4. I’ve stopped calling it Obamacare. People think that “Obamacare” is a plan that you enroll in, like Medicare or Medicaid. Calling it Obamacare makes it harder to explain that they may just be eligible to get a discount on the same private insurance plans that were available a year ago.

When I tell people that “Obamacare” is just potential money that they use to buy private insurance, they all wonder what the big deal was.

And or activists…

Three Things Uninsured People Need To Know Before They Get Penalized

1. After March 31, you can’t sign up. Not only is March 31 the last day to go uninsured without paying a fine, but you also can’t sign up after March 31. The next open enrollment period starts in November for 2015 coverage.

You can enroll in Medicaid at any time, but full time workers likely make too much for Medicaid.

2. You pay for your insurance on a sliding scale. I don’t know why it’s taken so long to get the rap this short, but I describe ACA as “the less you make, the less you have to pay for coverage”.

Most uninsured people have been to a clinic or provider that charges based on income. That’s similar to how the health exchange works when it says “you may be eligible for a tax credit”.

3. Full time + minimum wage = really cheap plans. A full-time minimum wage worker earns $16,536 a year. That person’s Silver plan should be $50 a month, and a Bronze between $1 and $33 a month, depending on age and where she lives. Anything less than 40 hours a week at minimum wage would make her eligible for Medicaid.

Reposted from Plunderbund

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Governors Who Reject Medicaid Painfully Unaware of the Pain They Are Causing

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The most under-reported fact about our health care system in 2014 is this: 5 million Americans don’t have access to affordable health coverage simply because their governors (or majority of legislators) refuse to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid expansion would cost the states nothing for the first three years, and after that time the federal government would pick up an overwhelming majority of the costs. Yet, when asked, these politicians frequently cite cost as the prohibiting factor to Medicaid expansion. That’s because the real reason would–and should–be embarrassing: they want to be seen as “tough” toward President Obama and the new health care law, and rejecting Medicaid expansion is the best and easiest way to do that.

These politicians include Rick Perry, governor of Texas, where nearly one out of four people don’t have health insurance. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is another: 700,000 Pennsylvanians are denied affordable coverage because of his opposition to expanding Medicaid.

Working America members in Pennsylvania have been active in pressuring Gov. Corbett and the legislature to change their tune. In December, our longtime member Georgeanne Koehler wrote a heartfelt letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in favor of Medicaid expansion, citing her 50 years in the health care industry. “I learned early on that when an illness attacks us it doesn’t care anything about us, not our race, religion, gender or politics,” she wrote in the letter, which she dedicated to her late brother.

John Miklos, a member hailing from Uptown, followed up with a December 26 letter titled “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid.” John described several different common scenarios where the average working person would benefit from expansion. ”These scenarios are not imaginary,” he wrote, “People I know well live them every day.”

James Barum, another active Working America member in Pittsburgh, followed up these letters with a personal story of his own. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published his letter, “Health care needs,” in Thursday’s paper. We’ve included the letter in its entirety:

Health care needs

On the subject of the Dec. 27 letter “Corbett is wrong not to expand Medicaid,” I thought that I would share a personal experience that may give readers pause on this issue.

A friend of mine works in the service industry brewing coffee. One day, when I was in line at that café to buy a drink, I saw her begin to cry while working. She was working furiously, making lattes and trying her best to meet each customer’s needs.

Somewhere in the chaos, a manager and I stopped her. In the break room, I spoke with her about what had occurred.

While picking up a tray, she felt a sharp pain shoot through her back. She always had issues with her back, and this happens to her occasionally, but never this bad. I asked if she had health insurance or could see a doctor, and she said, “No, I don’t, I’ll just have to tough it out.”

This saddened me, but when I heard about Gov. Tom Corbett’s reluctance to expand Medicaid, that sadness turned to anger — anger at the injustice of a friend who works so hard to serve others but cannot get her home state to serve her basic need for health care.

My friend and thousands just like her would qualify for Medicaid if our governor had the courage to put his constituent’s peace of mind above political games.

Nothing will get done if readers don’t give him the “encouragement” he needs.

JAMES BARUM
Robinson

Take action now: Tell Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett to accept federal funds for Medicaid.

Photo by @Fox43 on Twitter

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