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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13 Things You Need to Know About Social Security Disability as Republicans Try to Dismantle It

Earlier today, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) spoke at a Center for American Progress (CAP) event about Republican attempts to use Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) as a way to cut and undercut the whole Social Security system. Rather than sticking with the conventional wisdom that Republicans, the media and even some Democrats cling to, Brown argues that what we should be doing now is not just protecting Social Security and SSDI, we should be expanding the programs.

Here are 13 important facts about SSDI you need to know to counter the right-wing spin:

1. SSDI provides protection for 90% of America’s workers and their families if a life-changing disability or illness stops them from being able to work and bring in enough money.

2. SSDI pays modest benefits, averaging just $1,140 per month, less than most workers make before they qualify for the program.

3. For 80% of beneficiaries, SSDI is the primary or only source of income, and it provides a drastic increase in the quality of life of recipients who might otherwise live in poverty.

4. The eligibility criteria for SSDI are among the strictest in the world and fewer than 40% of applicants are approved.

5. Nearly 20% of beneficiaries die within five years of first obtaining benefits.

6. Nearly 9 million workers with disabilities receive SSDI benefits, including more than 1 million veterans. More than 150,000 spouses and nearly 2 million children also receive benefits.

7. Beneficiaries pay into SSDI as a portion of their Social Security payroll tax. The current tax rate is 6.2% on the first $117,000 of earnings a worker makes.  5.3% goes to the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund (OASI), the rest goes to the SSDI Trust Fund.

8. Only one-third of private-sector workers has employer-provided long-term disability insurance, and most of those plans often provide less than SSDI. Only 7% of workers who make $12 per hour or less have such insurance. Most private long-term disability insurance plans are too costly for most workers.

9. Most beneficiaries are in their 50s and 60s, with the average age being 53.

10. Fewer than 4% of beneficiaries earned more than $10,000 during the year.

11. The United States ranks 30 out of 34 OECD member countries in terms of replacement benefit payouts for workers with disabilities.

12. A temporary reallocation of how the 6.2% payroll tax is divided between SSDI and OASI would ensure that both trust funds would be able to remain fully solvent until 2033 and would alleviate the shortage in SSDI funds caused by demographic trends.

13. Beneficiaries face a wide range of significant disabilities, with many having multiple impairments, which include:

  • 31.8% have a “primary diagnosis” of a mental impairment, including 4.2% with intellectual disabilities and 27.6% with other types of mental disorders such as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder or severe depression.
  • 29.8% have a musculoskeletal or connective tissue disorder.
  • 8.7% have a cardiovascular condition such as chronic heart failure.
  • 9.3% have a disorder of the nervous system, such as cerebral palsy or multiple sclerosis, or a sensory impairment such as deafness or blindness.
  • 20.4% include workers living with cancers; infectious diseases; injuries; genitourinary impairments such as end stage renal disease; congenital disorders; metabolic and endocrine diseases such as diabetes; diseases of the respiratory system; and diseases of other body systems

Watch the entire event with Sen. Brown and a distinguished panel of experts on Social Security and SSDI. You also can read CAP’s full report on SSDI.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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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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North Carolina Welcomes Back the Legislature with Pots & Spoons

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Yesterday, we came out to support the NC State AFL-CIO for the second annual Pots and Spoons protest to mark the beginning of the short session for North Carolina’s Legislature.

The last two years have been marked by a regressive voter suppression law, cuts in education spending, and the rejection of Medicaid Expansion that would benefit close to half a million of our most vulnerable workers.

Hundreds of supporters were joined by union members, teachers, and lots of Moral Monday activists who are all calling on the legislature to change course and stop the attacks on North Carolina workers.

This protest was modeled after cacerolazos, protests that are common among peoples’ movements in South America and Spain. People bring a pot and a spoon and bang loudly to get the attention of politicians and decision-makers.

Legislators were entering their chambers with a chorus of clanking metal from the growing coalition of North Carolina progressives who are fighting back against legislators who are determined to roll back a century of progress.

As we gathered across from the legislative building on Wednesday, we were proud to stand with our coalition partners during this legislative session to remind these officials who they are supposed to represent.

Join the Moral Movement for North Carolina’s working families – text VOTENC to 30644.

Photo by NC AFL-CIO ON Flickr

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