Monday, May 09, 2011

The LuLac Edition #1584, May 9th, 2011



Hearings are currently being held in the state by Auditor General Jack Wagner on how the money from the tobacco settlement is being used by this current administration. One of the big movers in this is the Pennsylvania Health Access Network.
The Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) is a statewide coalition of organizations working to protect high quality health insurance coverage for individuals and businesses and to expand coverage to the uninsured.
PHAN is working with local organizations and communities across the Commonwealth to turn public anxiety about declining health care coverage into a sustained public voice for reform. PHAN works to promote change at the state and national level by mobilizing affected constituencies, including consumers, health care providers, business, labor, the faith community, and the general public to press for a more accessible and affordable health care system.
The coalition participates in the Consumer Voices for Coverage initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which supports state advocacy efforts by fostering strong and robust advocacy infrastructures. The vision of Consumer Voices for Coverage is to enhance the critical role that advocates play in shaping and promoting comprehensive health reform. This $15 million initiative strengthens existing advocacy networks in 12 states, including Pennsylvania. Community Catalyst, a national non-profit consumer health advocacy organization headquartered in Boston, coordinates the effort nationwide.
One of the advocates, Athena Ford sent me some information on the progress being made for Health Care for the uninsured via accessing the funds of the Tobacco Settlement. Auditor General Jack Wagner is holding hearings on that important health care component.
Here is a report submitted by PHAN by Erin Gill.
PHAN had the opportunity to testify at the first two hearings called by Auditor General Jack Wagner to look into how the state has misspent and redirected substantial portions of the Tobacco Settlement Fund over the past several years. These diversions have taken money away from adultBasic and other key health programs to go to plug holes in the General Fund. This has been done with no transparency, no public input and no accountability.
And now, the situation is even worse. Governor Corbett, as we know, has eliminated adultBasic, and he’s now looking to completely transfer all the Tobacco Fund dollars into the General Fund and take $220 million from the Tobacco Endowment Account and use it start up a new, state-subsidized lending program for business!
This is money allocated by law (Act 77—the Tobacco Settlement Act, passed in 2001 by Republican Governor Tom Ridge and a bipartisan majority in the General Assembly) to go only to health-related purposes. It was never intended to be a personal slush fund for the Governor, and definitely not a pot to take from to give to business.
The Auditor General has scheduled four of these hearings in every region in Pennsylvania to give the public a chance to weigh in on how these Tobacco Fund dollars are spent. He wants the public to go on record on the critical question of whether the tobacco fund money should continue to go toward adultBasic and other health and smoking prevention programs as intended (by Governor Ridge and a bipartisan majority) or whether the Governor should be free to use the funds for whatever he wants.
If the first two hearings are any indication, the answer is a clear and impassioned call to keep those tobacco dollars going toward adultBasic and health/smoking cessation programs as they were intended.
99% of those that testified—who ranged from non-profit directors to hospital administrators to workers who lost their adultBasic coverage—delivered a resounding call to keep the Tobacco dollars with healthcare, with adultBasic, as they were intended to be used.
Here are a few highlights from both days:
From Charles LaVallee, Director of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund and former Vice President of Highmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield:
“The termination of adultBasic is not cost-saving, but cost-shifting. By terminating adultBasic, a “hidden health care tax” will be put on those with insurance. According to a 2009 report by Families USA, $1017 is added to the annual premium for a family policy ($368 for an individual policy) that pays for uncompensated health care costs incurred by those who are uninsured. By adding tens of thousands to the ranks of Pennsylvania’s uninsured—many of whom have chronic conditions—uncompensated care costs for the uninsured will grow, and those costs will passed on to the insured through higher premiums.” (So much for Gov. Corbett’s no new taxes pledge!)
Mr. LaVallee ended his testimony with a call to once again use Tobacco Settlement Funds as they were intended—and to reinstate adultBasic.
Annette Fetchko, an administrator at the Catholic Charities Health Clinic in downtown Pittsburgh testified about the “shortsighted” decision to end adultBasic, without giving those who lost their coverage a viable alternative to access the preventive and specialty care services that adultBasic provided. She worried about the increased burden on free health clinics like theirs that we’re already feeling the strain from a jump in the number of uninsured patients seeking care. “There is a serious trickle down effect here—if we can’t serve people and meet the increased need, where do people go?” Fetchko worried.
Beth Heeb, Executive Director of the Consumer Health Coalition in Pittsburgh talked about the jump in uninsured folks turning to their health care navigator for help in where to turn to get the care they need. She said:
CHC has witnessed a constant and steady increase in calls to its helpline, but nothing compares to the increases we have seen in the last few years, especially from pre-Medicare adults. As you all know, the economic downturn has led to tremendous increases in the rates of uninsured adults. With limited options available they are all too often left to fend for themselves. In 2010, our helpline saw a 39% increase in call volume over 2009. The termination of adultBasic only exacerbated this problem, for the first quarter of 2011 calls to our helpline were up 40% over the first quarter of 2010.
There is no worse job right now than to work on our helpline. Our healthcare navigators are fielding calls from struggling individuals, and 9 times out of 10 they can’t help them. In most cases, we are forced to make referrals to clinics and health centers that are already overwhelmed. It is simply depressing, and only further underscores the need for health reform.”
Beth ended her testimony with a call to use to the Tobacco Funds as they were intended, saying:
“We’ve been borrowing from Peter to pay Paul and it ultimately has cost over 41,000 of our hardworking friends, family members, and neighbors their health care, hopefully it won’t cost anyone their life. I am here today to say that the games need to stop. The funds are there and they should be used for their intended purpose, to provide the working poor with health insurance.”
Auditor General Wagner had everyone’s testimony transcribed and is going to deliver copies to Governor Corbett and all members of the General Assembly so they know how the public feels about this. If you want to make your make your voice heard the next hearing will be this week in Harrisburg, May 11th 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday, May 11, in Rachel Carson Bldg, 400 Market Street, Harrisburg.


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