When Walmart Cut Insurance for 30,000 Workers, This Is How We Responded

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Last October, Walmart cut health insurance for about 30,000 part time workers. Starting January 1, 2015, only part-time associates who work 30 to 34 a week qualify for coverage.

This recent move from the country’s largest private employer is the latest in a series of steps to pare down health care costs, often at the expense of local taxpayers. It wasn’t long ago that Walmart offered health coverage for all part-time workers. But in 2011, Walmart cut coverage for new employees who worked fewer than 24 hours. In 2012, they went even further, dropping insurance for those who worked fewer than 30 hours a week. Now, those workers who were grandfathered into the health plan have been dropped.

Keep in mind: despite recent improvements, individual Walmart associates have very little control over their schedules, and managers are able to cut costs by keeping workers’ hours under the 30-hour threshold. And for those associates who actually qualify, the company’s health care plan is fraught with problems.

Luckily, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it’s now easier for individuals to purchase health coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace. To help everyday workers, OUR Walmart and Working America Health Care have teamed up to offer Walmart associates an even better deal.

OUR Walmart members who enroll in a qualified health plan through Working America Health Care will have access to special member benefits: dental and vision discounts, as well as a personal Health Advocate to answer questions and help workers deal with insurance companies.

This past November, many of us stood up for Walmart associates on Black Friday. More than 11,000 Working America members signed petitions calling for $15 an hour and access to full-time hours for all Walmart workers. We made calls, shared information with friends, and joined in solidarity with Walmart associates at stores across the country.

But making change at Walmart and in the lives of its workers is about more than just one day: and that’s why we’re incredibly proud of this collaboration to help provide answers, stability, and a measure of security for Walmart workers and their families.

Are you a Walmart worker? Do you know someone who is? Click here to learn more about the available health care benefits or call 888-693-0159 for more information.

Whether or not you work at Walmart, you can have access to special benefits by enrolling in health coverage through Working America Health Care by February 15. Click here to learn more or call 855-698-2479.

Working America Health Care is a joint partnership between Working America and Union Plus with the mission of informing folks about the Affordable Care Act and connecting them with quality health insurance coverage.

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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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AFL-CIO Joins Broad Coalition to Fight for Affordable Medicines

Yesterday, the AFL-CIO’s own Thea Lee joined AARPDoctors Without BordersOxfam America and the Generic Pharmaceutical Association in urging President Obama to fix proposals in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a trade and economic governance deal currently under negotiation—that could leave us all paying more for life-saving prescription medicines.

One of the most harmful of the provisions Lee warned against including in the TPP was part of the U.S.-Korea FTA. It gives companies that make drugs or medical devices special rights—over and above those they already have under domestic law—to appeal government decisions about whether to include a drug or device in a government health program (such as Medicare) and how much to pay for it.

Public health advocates, doctors and patients don’t receive similar rights—they aren’t even mentioned in these provisions. No  trade agreement should “stack the deck” toward higher prices for life-saving drugs and devices. Yet the U.S.-Korea FTA does, and the TPP might do the same. America’s working people can’t afford unnecessary price increases for pharmaceutical products—to say nothing of our brothers and sisters in developing countries.

Another potentially harmful provision reportedly included in the draft TPP is patent protection so extreme  it will lead to “evergreening” (indefinite perpetuation) of medicinal patents, thus preventing price competition from generic drugs. The AFL-CIO has a long history of supporting intellectual property rights—after all, workers in creative and innovative fields rely on intellectual property protection to support their pay and benefits. But extreme patent protections (like rules requiring a new 20-year patent term every time the drug changes from liquid to pill to capsule, or rules that prevent people from challenging the validity of a patent) are unnecessary and can put our families’ health at risk. That’s just wrong. Such rules hurt patients and simply shouldn’t be in international trade deals.

Finally, to expand access to affordable medicines, many in the coalition argued the TPP must omit investor-to-state dispute settlement, also known as ISDS or corporate courts. These, too, have been in trade deals like NAFTACorporate courts provide foreign investors with private justice, complete with their own special rules and their own private “courts” staffed by private lawyers, unaccountable to the public. Pharmaceutical companies could use ISDS to challenge states’ Medicaid drug pricing policies, such as their use of drug formularies or rebates. These challenges could raise costs for these programs (making it less likely states will pursue the ACA Medicaid expansion).

The TPP must not straitjacket nations’ policy choices regarding how to organize their health care delivery systems. Instead, these agreements should promote U.S. medical and pharmaceutical exports in ways thatrespect the human right to health care and national choices about how to best defend that right. 

Read the full AFL-CIO/AARP/MSF/GPHA/Oxfam letter here.

Sign a petition here demanding the TPP not interfere with affordable medicines or harm working families in other ways.

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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NNU, AFT Urge Stronger Patient–Worker Protections in Ebola Treatments

NNU, AFT Urge Stronger Patient–Worker Protections in Ebola Treatments

In a letter to President Barack Obama about the growing concern over Ebola in the United States, the National Nurses United (NNU) urged the president to “invoke his executive authority” to order all U.S. hospitals to meet the highest “uniform, national standards and protocols” in order to “safely protect patients, all health care workers and the public.”

Two nurses who cared for an Ebola patient in Dallas who later died have contracted the disease and there have been serious questions raised about that hospital’s protocols and preparedness and concerns if other health care facilities are prepared. In the letter, NNU Executive Director RoseAnn DeMoro writes:

Not one more patient, nurse or health care worker should be put at risk due to a lack of health care facility preparedness The United States should be setting the example on how to contain and eradicate the Ebola virus.

Read more here and here.

At a press conference today, AFT, which represents nurses and other health care professionals, called on all health care facilities to adopt a three-point plan as the core of their response to treating possible Ebola victims and protecting the health care workers who treat them. It includes an infectious disease control protocol and worker protections; developing a dedicated treatment team of willing staff members—doctors, nurses and support staff and providing front-line health care workers a voice in developing the procedures, protocols and plans to deal with Ebola at their facilities.

Says AFT President Randi Weingarten:

Nurses and health care professionals are the front line in this fight, and their number one priority is to keep their communities safe….Health care professionals step up when there are crises, they run toward crises.

Read more here and here.

Along with calling for stronger protocols and protections, the United States along with NNU and AFT have been providing assistance to nurses unions and health care workers organizations in West Africa who are in the center of the Ebola battle. That includes working with international organizations to provide health care workers with education, training and other support. Weingarten says:

We must deal with the Ebola crisis globally and locally.

Bonnie Castillo, RN, director of NNU’s Registered Nurse Response Network, says:

All of us have a responsibility to support the humanitarian effort and assist the heroic nurses, doctors and other health care workers who are on the front lines risking their lives to heal the thousands of infected patients in West Africa.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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248,000 New Jobs Drop Jobless Rate to 5.9% in September

The economy added 248,000 new jobs in September, a big increase over the 180,000 jobs added in August. The unemployment rate fell to 5.9% compared to 6.1% in August, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over the past year, the unemployment rate has dropped by 1.3 percentage points and the number of jobless workers has decreased by 1.9 million.

The number of long-term unemployed (those jobless for 27 weeks or more) was 3 million, unchanged from August. Over the past 12 months, the number of long-term jobless workers has decreased by 1.2 million.

AFL-CIO Policy Director and Special Counsel Damon Silvers said while the drop in the jobless rate is encouraging, wages continue to stagnate.

For the economy to work for everyone, we need to see low unemployment rates coupled with wages that are rising, like we saw in the late 1990s, when real wages rose and the jobless rate dropped as low as 4%.

While long-term joblessness has dropped some, it remains a major problem. House Republicans have, since the end of last year, refused to allow a vote on the extension of the Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits program that was approved by a bipartisan Senate majority. Now, Congress is out of session until after the election, and even then House Republicans are likely to turn their backs on long-term jobless workers again.

Last month’s biggest job gains were in professional and business services (81,000), retail trade (35,000) and health care (23,000).

Other sectors that showed increases include leisure and hospitality (21,000), construction (16,000), information (12,000), financial (12,000) and mining (9,000).

Employment in other major industries, including manufacturing, wholesale trade, transportation and warehousing and government, showed little change in September.

Among the major worker groups, the unemployment rates in September declined for adult men (5.3%), whites (5.1%) and Latinos (6.9%). The rates for adult women (5.7%), teenagers (20%) and blacks (11%) showed little change.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Five Reasons Why Tom Foley Is One of the Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections

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It’s an election year and we are quickly approaching the time when working families will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote against a whole host of extreme candidates who support policies that limit rights, make it even harder to afford a middle-class life and pad the pockets of their corporate buddies. One of the “Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections” is Tom Foley, who is running for governor in Connecticut.

1. Foley wants to repeal the state’s law that requires employers to allow workers to earn paid sick days. He’s using the same tired arguments against paid sick days that already have failed to come true in Connecticut. [The Associated Press, 7/4/14]

2. He opposes raising the state’s minimum wage. [The Connecticut Mirror, 3/7/14]

3. Foley favors policies that will outsource jobs from the state. “There are probably big opportunities to save money by outsourcing,” he said. [The Connecticut Mirror, 6/14/10]

4. He would end other benefits for workers, including some health care coverage requirements and existing benefits for retirees. [The Connecticut Mirror, 2/2/10; 6/14/10]

5. Foley says he should be governor because of his business experience, but his experience is laying off thousands of workers and making millions in profits off of doing so. He even went as far as to tell workers to their faces that it was their fault he closed a plant, saying “you have lost these jobs” (see video). [Forbes, 9/5/88; New Haven Register, 8/20/14; Businessweek, 7/21/86; Hartford Courant, 5/21/10; NFN, 5/22/95; Hartford Courant, 5/21/10; The New York Times, 1/14/97; The Associated Press, 4/12/98; Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 10/31/08 and 3/24/98; Norwich Bulletin, 7/29/14]

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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California Passes Paid Sick Days Law but Home Health Care Workers Left Out

Six and a half million California workers will now have access to paid sick days, thanks to a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Workers will be able to earn three paid sick days a year. Unfortunately, home care workers were excluded from the final bill.

California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski said in a statement:

While this law is a historic step forward, California’s unions won’t rest until every single worker in our state receives equal access to paid sick days. Home care workers, like all workers, deserve the opportunity to earn paid sick days on the job. We’ll continue to fight for In-Home Supportive Services workers to ensure that California treats all workers with fairness and dignity.

California has become only the second state in the United States to offer guaranteed earned paid sick days (cities and municipalities across the country have been taking the lead in this area).

Read more about the legislation and the home care worker exclusion from Ellen Bravo, director at Family Values@Work.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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300,000 More People Just Got Paid Sick Days

Photo courtesy Allan Ferguson on Flickr

Yesterday, the United States became a little bit better place to be a sick worker, as two more cities joined the growing wave of localities that have passed paid sick days laws. The city councils in San Diego and Eugene, Ore., each voted to require employers to make sure that workers don’t have to choose between working sick and losing pay. Nine cities and the state of Connecticut now have paid sick leave laws.

The San Diego City Council passed their measure 6–3 and it heads to Mayor Kevin Faulconer, who has said he would veto it. The council has the votes to override the veto, however. The law would provide full-time workers up to five earned sick days annually, with part-time workers getting a portion of that. In Eugene, the vote was 5–3. The bill would provide one hour of paid sick leave for 30 hours worked, up to 40 hours a year.

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, said the day was historic:

Campaigns for paid sick days in Eugene and San Diego involved months of organizing by local workers, small business owners and many partner organizations. Yesterday, their work paid off: No longer will workers in Eugene and San Diego be forced to choose between the job they need and the family who needs them.

Biviana Lagunas, a San Diego State University student and part-time low-wage worker in San Diego, said the new law will be a life-changer:

The passing of this measure means my mother will no longer have to choose between a day’s wages and caring for my little brother when he’s sick. Right now, I work to pay for school and make sure my family can keep up with the rent. Now, my sister and I can use more of our time to study instead of stressing about how our family will get by.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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