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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100,000 Reasons the Extremists Who Run North Carolina Should Be Very Afraid

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When a group equal to one-fifth the population of the state capital shows up to protest your policies, you’re in trouble. Between 80,000 and 100,000 people showed up Saturday at the Moral March on Raleigh, the state capital with some 420,000 residents. The marchers included working families and their allies from around the state and more than 30 other states. A related rally a year ago attracted 15,000 participants. It’s clear that more North Carolinians are becoming upset with the extreme agenda of Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and his allies in the legislature.

The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP and a driving force behind the state’s Moral Monday movement, which spawned the march, said: “The governor and the legislature are trying to say we’re in the middle of a Carolina comeback. We got a team of experts, economists, professors, etc., together, and they said we’re in the middle of a Carolina setback. No way you can spin what’s happening to us.”

MaryBe McMillan, the elected secretary-treasurer of the North Carolina State AFL-CIO, wrote a poem on the march. Below is an excerpt:

Why are union members and workers here, today?
We’re here because:

There’s too much corporate greed
And we have families to feed.
There are so few jobs, no decent wages.
Inequality tops the news pages.

CEOs earn more and more
While the rest of us grow poor.
The bosses want their workers cheap,
Meek and docile like sheep.

They move their companies South,
Hoping we won’t give them any mouth.
Well, imagine their surprise
As they watch the South arise.

The reaction to the right-wing policies pursued by McCrory are opposed by much of the state’s public as well. A poll last week gave him a 37% approval rating.  The General Assembly fared even worse, at 32%. Only 23% of the state’s residents think North Carolina is headed in the right direction.

Barber and the other organizers behind the march and the Moral Monday protests have focused on five goals:

  • Secure pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that ensure economic sustainability.
  • Provide well-funded, quality public education for all.
  • Stand up for the health of every North Carolinian by promoting health care access and environmental justice across all the state’s communities.
  • Address the continuing inequalities in the criminal justice system and ensure equality under the law for every person, regardless of race, class, creed, documentation or sexual preference.
  • Protect and expand voting rights for people of color, women, immigrants, the elderly and students to safeguard fair democratic representation.

Learn more about the march and the Moral Monday activities.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Dear Governor Corbett: Here’s How You Fully Fund Pennsylvania Schools. It’s Actually Pretty SImple.

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The following is a guest post from Working America member Kayleigh Metviner

Volunteers, supporters, and media gathered at Working America’s Pittsburgh office on Tuesday morning to call for an economically just and fiscally responsible state budget, in contrast to the budget proposal anticipated from Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) later in the day.

With over 500,000 members in Pennsylvania, Working America is a formidable force in the state, and we are overwhelmingly in support of a state budget that focuses more resources on public education, higher education, and social services.

Our members know that money doesn’t materialize out of thin air, so their calls for well-funded education and social services are accompanied by practical and equitable solutions: closing the Delaware tax loophole that deprives Pennsylvanians of hundreds of millions of dollars a year and expanding Medicaid.

Expanding Medicaid will not only allow more Pennsylvanians to access health care, it also has the potential to lower overall health care costs. On top of this, it will be 100 percent funded by the federal government for the first three years, and that rate would modestly and gradually decrease to 90 percent during years after that. Lowered costs from expanded Medicaid, combined with increased revenues from corporations paying their fair share of taxes will enable our state to fulfill its commitment to our public schools.

Several Working America volunteers read community member comments aloud at the press conference. One member urged Governor Corbett to “budget with greater consideration for education support instead of corporate tax breaks/”  Another wrote: “Please, stop the practice of subsidizing large corporations with taxpayer money when programs and research to help the vulnerable are so needed.”

We want to thank those who shared their stories and urge all Pennsylvanians to continue spreading the word about the real possibilities for economic justice right here, right now.

Text JOBS to 30644 to join Working America’s movement for economic justice in Pennsylvania.

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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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Moral Mondays Expanded in North Carolina with Feb. 8 ‘Moral March on Raleigh’

On Feb. 8, the Moral Monday movement, which showed massive momentum in 2013, will return with its biggest event yet, the Moral March on Raleigh. While the state of North Carolina has been moving in a more Democratic direction in recent years in presidential elections, with Barack Obama winning the state in 2008 and coming just two percentage points of winning it again in 2012, extremist Republicans have taken control of the governor’s mansion and the state Assembly.

The Moral March on Raleigh will call out North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, state House Speaker Thom Tillis (R) and state Senate Leader Phil Berger (R) and their extreme policies, which have included attacks on voting rights, education, the environment, health care and women’s rights. Organizers expect tens of thousands of North Carolinians to stand up for their rights and fight back against these extreme policies on Feb. 8.

The Moral Monday movement was organized by the Rev. William Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, which staged protests in Raleigh and throughout the state last year. The events were launched in conjunction with another organization headed by Barber, the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKonJ) People’s Assembly Coalition, and have been supported by more than 150 other organizations. The 13 Moral Monday events in Raleigh in 2013 led to nearly 1,000 arrests for civil disobedience, while events in dozens of other cities around the state helped raise awareness about the strange games afoot in the state capital.

For more details about the March, visit the HKonJ website.

The Moral Monday movement has put forth the People’s Moral Agenda, which includes the following principles and policy goals:

  • Economic sustainability, alleviating poverty and expanding labor rights.
  • Fully funded constitutional education.
  • Health care for all—protecting Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, women’s health and the Affordable Health Care Act.
  • Addressing disparities in the criminal justice system.
  • Protecting/expanding voting rights and civil rights.
  • Environmental justice.
  • Fair and just immigration reform.
  • Equal protection under the law regardless of race, income, gender or sexual orientation.

The Moral Monday movement also has a goal of raising awareness about Art Pope, the extreme financier behind much of the pro-corporate, anti-working family policies that have passed recently in North Carolina. Pope is often referred to as the state’s version of the Koch brothers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Remember That Time You Thought Your Hospital Charged You Too Much? You Were Probably Right

Everybody knows about exorbitant hospital prices, but data compiled by National Nurses United (NNU) shows that many hospitals, especially the for-profit ones, are price gouging their patients. Many for-profit hospitals, according to NNU, actually charge patients more than 10 times what it costs to provide care.

“Such inflated practices continue to price far too many Americans out of access to needed medical care or expose them to financial ruin,” says NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN. “It’s long past time to rein in the price gouging and recognize that a health care system based on profiteering puts all of us at risk.”

The top 14 U.S. hospitals charge more than $1,000 per every $100 of their actual costs, according to NNU. New Jersey leads the country in hospital costs with Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center in Secaucus at the top, charging $1,192 for every $100 of its costs. The top 100 hospitals nationwide have a charge-to-cost ratio, on average, of 765%, while the national average is 331%.

Many of the most expensive hospitals are owned by two massive hospital corporations, Community Health Systems and Health Management Associates, NNU reports. The two companies are pursuing a merger that NNU says would raise costs even further. For-profit hospitals, in general, charge much more than the national average at 503% of costs. Meanwhile, public hospitals at all levels average 245% of actual costs, more evidence that government-run enterprises often do better than privatized services. Maryland, which NNU says is probably the most regulated state in terms of medical charges, has the lowest average charges.

“The lesson here is that the critical work of real health care reform is far from complete,” Ross says. “As long as our health continues to be held hostage by hospitals and other corporations more focused on profits than care, Americans will be at risk.”

Ross says NNU would continue to stand up for patients:

Nurses will never stop fighting for transformation of our inequitable health care system to one based on patient need and quality care for all. The numbers for bankruptcy and financial ruin from medical bills plummet at age 65, when people qualify for Medicare. The best solution is to expand and update Medicare to cover everyone and take the financing of health care out of the hands of the profiteers.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Yes, Marco Rubio, There Is Less Poverty Than There Was 50 Years Ago

Fifty years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty and worked with Congress to pass legislation designed to lower poverty levels and mitigate the effects of poverty on America’s families. Not long after the war on poverty initiatives went into effect, and startedshowing significant results, conservatives went on the attack, attempting to weaken, defund or eliminate many of the policies that were working quite well. But the program was so effective that it still helped, and helps, keep tens of millions of Americans out of poverty. Now Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) isweighing in on the war on poverty by claiming that it has failed, a smoke screen that he and others are using to continue their agenda to weaken or eliminate the war on poverty.

Two claims are central to conservative arguments that the war on poverty is a failure. The first is tortured logic that goes something like this: “We’ve been fighting the war on poverty for 50 years and poverty still exists, therefore it’s a failure.” Beyond the fact that this level of oversimplification doesn’t belong in a serious conversation about poverty (we rarely “eliminate” problems, we improve the situation as the real world goal), it completely ignores the conservative responsibility for the programs not being as effective as they could be. From budget cuts to added red tape that makes it harder for citizens to participate in lifelines they are eligible for, conservatives have fought for decades to make the war on poverty less successful. To now claim that these lifelines are inherently flawed, as opposed to being sabotaged, is laughable at best.

The second claim relies on a dumbing-down of statistics that would make George W. Bush proud. By the official government poverty measure, the poverty rate in 1964 was 19%. In the latest version of that official number, the rate is 15%. The argument goes that 50 years is a long time and a lot of money to decrease poverty such a small amount. Ignoring the fact that 4% of the population is still millions of people, the official number is flawed. It only includes cash income.  Over the years, more and more anti-poverty programs were moved away from direct cash payments to non-cash benefits and tax credits. So this official measure ignores many of the programs designed to keep Americans out of poverty. A more accurate measure is the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which accounts for non-cash income. The SPM shows a decline in the poverty rate more than twice that of the official number, from 26% in 1967 to 16% now.

It’s clear that by any valid measurement, the war on poverty has been highly successful, particularly when you look at specific policies and what aspects of poverty they target. Here are a few key numbers that show the success of the war on poverty:

  • Antipoverty programs kept 41 million Americans out of poverty in 2012, including 9 million children.
  • Unemployment Insurance kept 2.5 million Americans out of poverty in 2012.
  • The Supplemental Nutrition assistance Program (food stamps) kept 4.9 million Americans out of poverty, including 2.2. million children.
  • The Earned Income and Child Tax Credits kept 10.1 million Americans out of poverty.
  • Social Security kept 26.6 million people out of poverty in 2012, including 17 million seniors and more than 1 million children.
  • Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program and health care subsidies help 150 million Americans get health insurance.
  • The programs have long-term effects, too. Research shows that children who received food stamps in the 1960s and 1970s grew up healthier and were more likely to finish school. At age 19, they were 6% less likely to have stunted growth, 5% less likely to have heart disease, 16% less likely to be obese and 18% more likely to have completed high school.

This isn’t to say that the war on poverty is an unqualified success or that more doesn’t need to be done.  But it is to say that conservative arguments about the war on poverty are highly inaccurate and the policy proposals put for by Rubio and his allies would do the exact opposite of what they claim and would undermine the progress that has been made in the last 50 years. More appropriate solutions to the problems of poverty would roll back right-wing assaults on antipoverty programs and would stimulate job creation and higher wages for working families. But don’t hold your breath thinking that the Marco Rubios of the world will do the right thing.

Photo by Gage Skidmore on Flickr

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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She Worked in Health Care for Almost 50 Years, And She Has a Message for Gov. Corbett

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Georgeanne Koehler is one of our longtime members in Pittsburgh. We wanted to share her letter to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Healing hope for Medicaid” in its entirety because she expresses so well in a few paragraphs what a hundred health care coverage statistics cannot.

Please read the letter below and remember that our politicians’ actions–or lack of action–have consequences that affect real people, not just headlines.

Healing hope for Medicaid

This letter is in memory of my brother, who had a pre-existing condition and died after he was unable to receive care because of lack of health insurance.

I worked in health care for close to 50 years before I retired. I learned early on that when an illness attacks us it doesn’t care anything about us, not our race, religion, gender or politics.

The hope of recovering from one’s illness was easily found because, up until 12 years ago, medicine was about ethics and the healing of body, as well as mind. When St. Francis, Mercy, Braddock and many small community hospitals closed their doors or were bought out by huge health care systems, I saw with my own eyes and I knew, through my broken heart, that medicine had changed. Ethics were simply thrown away and healing was replaced with profit. When that happens, the hope of recovering from one’s illness depends on whether the person has a health insurance card in his or her pocket.

If I were a betting woman I would take the bet that the banker has one of those cards but not so much the baker, the candlestick maker or the pizza delivery driver (the working poor) — folks too rich to be enrolled in Medicaid, as we know it today, and too poor to qualify for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. This means hundreds of thousands of working poor Pennsylvanians and their children will remain uninsured, and that is not acceptable.

The time is now for Gov. Tom Corbett to open his eyes so he can see that Medicaid expansion is the morally right thing to do for the citizens of Pennsylvania, for within Medicaid expansion is hope.

GEORGEANNE KOEHLER

Bloomfield

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

Photo by ryleaxx on Instagram

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Oops, So Much for the Right-Wing Arguments Against Paid Sick Leave

In 2011, Connecticut became the first state to require employers to provide paid sick days for workers, including part-time employees. At the time, extreme pro-business interests in the state ran through the common, yet tired, arguments about paid sick leave in efforts to stop the law from passing. After 18 months of the law being in effect, researchers Eileen Appelbaum, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), and Ruth Milkman, a professor at CUNY, surveyed more than 250 employers in the state to determine the effects of the law. The results of the study pretty soundly reject the conservative arguments against paid sick leave.

CEPR’s Teresa Kroeger said of the study:

The authors found that the law had minimal effects on businesses. A large majority of employers reported that the law did not affect business operations and that they had no or only small increases in costs. Businesses most frequently covered absent workers by assigning the work to other employees, a solution which has little effect on costs. Just 10% of employers reported that the law caused their costs to increase by 3% or more.

The key findings of the study include:

  • Employee turnover was reduced 3.3%.
  • Sick employees coming to work sick was reduced 18.8%.
  • Illness was spread 14.8% less often than before the law.
  • Productivity increased 14.9%.
  • Morale, motivation and loyalty increased among employees (according to their employers).
  • Payroll costs increased by 3% or more for only 10% of employers.
  • Only 10.6% of employers reported reducing employee hours because of the law.
  • Only 15.6% of employers reported increasing prices because of the law.
  • Only 3.4% of employers reported reducing operating hours because of the law.
  • Only 1.3% of employers reported reduced quality of service because of the law.
  • Only 1.0% of employers reported reducing wages because of the law.
  • A strong majority of employers were “very supportive” (39.5%) or “somewhat supportive” (37.0%) of the law a year-and-a-half after it went into effect.
  • The law covers about 400,000 workers
  • The law had minimal impact on employers that already offered paid sick days.
  • Little abuse of the system has been reported by employers.
  • Paid sick day coverage increased from 88.5% of employers to 93.7% that offer five or more paid sick days annually.
  • The number of paid sick days offered to all employees rose from an average of 6.9 days to 7.7 days.
  • About two-thirds of eligible workers used paid sick days, with an average of four days used per year.
  • Unionized employers were half as likely to report cost increases because of the law (compared to nonunion employers).

Photo via CT Working Families Party on Facebook

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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In Newark, You Can Be Fired for Taking A Sick Day. In 2014, That Will Change.

The paid sick days movement rolls on, right into 2014.

On January 8, Newark, NJ’s City Council will vote on a paid sick days proposal. The measure is expected to pass.

The bill would allow workers to earn an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 they worked, requiring employers to provide up to five paid sick days a year for their employees, who could use the time for their own illnesses or that of their family members.

Advocates estimate that 38,000 Newark workers don’t have access to a single paid sick day. That’s a lot of potential people who are, for instance, preparing or serving food while sick, simply because they had no other option.

Newark is following the lead of Jersey City, whose mayor Steve Fulop signed a paid sick time ordinance into law in October.

In the past year, New York City and Portland, Oregon have also enacted paid sick days laws. Massachusetts is likely to send a paid sick days measure to the 2014 ballot. Legislatures in Oregon and Vermont expect to take up the issue in earnest when they return early next year.

Of course, there are so-called “pro-business” groups who oppose these laws. But they voices of workers like Derick Swaby, a cabin cleaner at Newark Airport, cut through the noise:

“For me and for all the workers, we need paid sick days,” said Swaby, 55, of Newark. “You need days to recover when you’re sick without having to worry about losing money. Right now, I’m compelled to go to work when I’m sick, because if I don’t go, I don’t get no pay.”

A Newark victory early in 2014 would lend momentum to efforts in Massachusetts, Vermont, Oregon, and nationwide.

Photo by New Jersey Working Families on Facebook

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