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Blog – Put People First! PA

by Irish, Pittsburgh

There is a lot of insecurity in my family around healthcare. Our income has been unstable, and often shrinking, since 2013 when Lyme disease and cancer stopped my partner and me, respectively, from working. The ACA made it possible for us to have access to health insurance, but healthcare costs are our biggest expense and growing every year. So it has been with mixed feelings and an eye toward something better that I have participated in actions to protect the ACA.

Since January, myself and other members of the Pittsburgh HRC (Human Rights Committee) have attended rallies, called and written letters to our federal representatives, gone to town halls, told our stories to the press, and even gone to Washington, DC and been arrested. At every step we think not just about all that we might lose if the ACA is repealed, but also about how we can use this moment to advance PPF’s Healthcare is a Human Right campaign.

When we speak at rallies or to the press, we share our personal stories, then attack insurance companies and profit-driven care and give our vision for a system that puts people first. One PGH member made big, beautiful PPF signs so even just a few of us can make a big splash at any action. We yell the loudest and help lead chants that amplify our message – “Medicaid not millionaires” instead of “ACA here to stay.” We always bring a clip- board with a PPF sign-up sheet.

In March we hosted a action training led by national organizers to protect the ACA where we learned about bird-dogging, a tactic to force politicians to take a stance on an issue. That same week we used our new skills to bird-dog our state representatives for a hearing on universal healthcare. We continue to invite those who came to the training to PPF events and one is even on the HRC now.

When I participated in civil disobedience in the Senate office buildings in DC, I got to spend several hours with activists from across PA. I told them about all our exciting work in PPF and I bet I will see them again.

I am proud of the work we have done to protect the gains made by the ACA. I’m even more proud of how we’ve taken a fight for a mediocre law and turned it into opportunity after opportunity for PPF’s Healthcare is a Human Right campaign. It’s easy to see the impact of our participation and leadership, both in how the healthcare debate is framed, and literally in the faces of our membership. Whatever does or doesn’t happen with the ACA this year, there is no question that PPF is better off for having participated in the fight!

by Hilary O’Connell, Philly, and Campaign Team
Photo: Put People First Members from Philly and South Central PA staged a die-in outside Independence Blue Cross (IBX) Headquarters in Philadelphia, demanding IBX’s attendance at the Southeast PA Town Hall. Credit: Chris Baker Evens

At a Put People First meeting this spring, Robert, a leader from Southwest Philadelphia, pushed us all to hold the Pennsylvania Insurance Department (PID) accountable to create transparency and participation in the “rate review process”: The annual procedure where the PID determines how much insurance companies can charge for Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare) plans for individuals and small groups. We won our 2016 campaign for the first public hearing in PA on ACA rates, and we knew that this year we needed to do more. So we sprang into action. In less than three months, we advocated for, planned, and pulled off not one, but five powerful Town Halls all across Pennsylvania — in people’s communities, and at times when working people could attend.
Our efforts paid off: Over 150 people attended Town Halls in Bucks, Northumberland, Blair, York and Allegheny Counties.

The Town Halls achieved many of Put People First’s goals: 1) We built our base and connections with partners across the state. 2) We made the invisible visible by exposing insurance companies as the true power-holders behind PID. 3) We developed and enriched leaders across PPF. And 4) we increased accountability, transparency and participation in the rate review process. This was a clear win. Reflecting on this victory, we ask: Why did we win? How can we win again? The answer is simple: At each step of the process, we all moved together.

This victory belongs to every PPF committee, team, and member.

Karim Sariahmed, a PPF member in Sunbury, opened testimony at the first Town Hall and set the tone for the storytelling that followed: “All of us know people who get sick, and many who die, because they don’t have insurance. And I really want the weight of that to be in the room with us when we’re talking about the decisions that get made about our lives, and our insurance plans.”

Members from across the state testified at the four Town Halls that followed, delivering powerful stories of our struggles. Pittsburgh member Julia Willis spoke: “This is not a humane system. It’s not taking care of us. Healthcare is a human right.” As Philadelphia member Adrienne Standley testified, “I know [PID] isn’t able to change the prices, or tell them what to charge. But I’m not able to afford to go to the doctor.” We insisted the PID recognize our lives are on the line. Each time someone told their story, you could see audience members nodding their heads in agreement.

Through this victory, we forced the PID and the insurance companies to acknowledge Put People First as a powerful voice in PA. While insurance companies themselves did not come to the town halls as we requested, we did receive a request from Independence Blue Cross in to meet in Southeast PA as a result of our pressure.

The Town Halls were an important and successful milestone in the process of building a mass movement in Pennsylvania of everyday people who are clear that healthcare is a human right. As we push forward, we’ll continue to bring people together to speak truth to power. The PID and insurance companies will have to learn: HEALTHCARE IS A HUMAN RIGHT! WE WON’T STOP WITHOUT A FIGHT!

Tiffany Lynn Walker: 5/21/75 – 12/13/16

Last Tuesday, Johnstown Put People First member Tiffany Walker passed away at home. Another PPF member, Bella Oliveras, was with her when she passed.

Tiffany was a new member — she had been in PPF for less than a year — but she made a major impact on the Johnstown OC and its members. She lost both of her legs this past March due to a blood clot issue, and was unable to get prosthetic legs that would have allowed her to move around freely. She was also dealing with chronic pain. With all of the challenges Tiffany faced, she’s remembered most of all as a giving and selfless person: When the Johnstown Organizing Committee decided to start doing fundraising drives to support our disabled members she pushed Bella, who is trying to get a motorized wheel-chair, to go first.

Tiffany was someone who fought for herself and for the people around her, and someone who is worth fighting for. She was someone that the system, and especially the health care system, abandoned. But still she brought her strength and her energy to the fight in Put People First. We’ll miss Tiffany, and we’ll carry on with her in our hearts and on our minds.

Tiffany’s family and friends are raising money to cover her funeral costs. Please support them by making a donation here.

Bella wrote a poem recently, which she shared at the Put People First! PA membership assembly in Harrisburg this year. She said that it really describes Tiffany, so we’re re-publishing it here below:

What it means to be a vibrant woman

To be bold and to stand up for what she believes in.
To dare to speak the truth and show respect where it’s due.
To be loved and be appreciated for who she is.
To know right from wrong.
To be a teacher and be a achiever.
To be a caretaker and to be a friend.
She’s a fighter, believer, lover and supporter but above all she’s a vibrant woman.

Ben Palmquist, member of the Put People First! PA Campaign Team and Campaign Manager for the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, wrote the following guide to help us understand the upcoming threats, challenges, and opportunities with healthcare in the U.S.

Put People First is committed to helping our communities meet their needs, engaging people across the state in a strategic response to these attacks and creating solutions to ensure the health and well being of all people in Pennsylvania.

What to Expect from the Coming Republican Attacks on Health Care

Hard-right Republicans have taken over all branches of government, and since the election President-Elect Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have all said that health care will be a major target in January.

The agenda the party is rallying around is truly unprecedented. Never before in history have ideological extremists held such sweeping control of government and had the power to repeal laws, dismantle and privatize public programs, and revoke fundamental civil and human rights. On the campaign trail, Trump was not fully in alignment with Ryan, so it is uncertain just what we should expect, but there is every reason to expect a truly catastrophic defunding and privatization of Medicaid that could force 30 million people out of the program, a dismantling of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that could take insurance away from another 22 million people, and a privatization of Medicare that would drastically limit health care access for seniors. The gravity of this would be enormous: taking comprehensive health care access away from people would literally kill tens of thousands of people every year.

While what Republicans will do exactly is unclear, they have released nine health care plans over the last four years. The following is a list of key conclusions that are emerging about the direction things are likely headed, with links to further reading on each topic.

Read more here.