Highlights from Harrisburg: A Successful Start to the Cover the Commonwealth Campaign!

Earlier this afternoon, health care advocates stood shoulder to shoulder with physicians, providers, lawmakers and faith leaders to press forward in the campaign to bring jobs and coverage to Pennsylvania through the Medicaid expansion.

Here are a few highlights:

Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, an anesthesiologist and Past President of the National Physicians Alliance talked about what a safe and smart investment this would be for Pennsylvania, noting that for every $1 Pennsylvania invests in expanding coverage, we’ll get $13 back in new federal funding. She also noted that the law allows states to opt out of the deal at any time. With 21 states across the nation announcing their support for this great deal -- including 6 with Republican Governors like our own Governor Corbett -- what’s to lose by moving forward? Dr. Arkoosh charged lawmakers to “Do the right thing - make the smart investment - cover the commonwealth!”

Jamie Coleman, a registered nurse at the Hershey Medical Center said with her, and with folks at her hospital, the patients come first: “If someone arrives in an emergency room -- people are treated first and ask about insurance later. Providing care to those in need is our first priority.”

But that care does not come without cost. Jamie explained that more money spent on uncompensated care provided to the uninsured in emergency rooms leads to resources for staffing and equipment. A registered Republican, Jamie urged lawmakers to keep politics out of this decision and think about what’s best for patients and the people of Pennsylvania, saying: “Healthcare transcends party lines… believe me, our patients do not care about party affiliation.” 

Cheryl Gannon provided a powerful window in the life of the kind of people who’ll be helped most by the expansion: people like her -- who are working, but working at jobs that are often low-paying that don’t come with health benefits. “Despite working full-time, I only make around $13,000 a year and I don’t have access to health care. Last year when I fell and broke my ribs, I ended up owing thousands for my healthcare bills and missing a month of work. I still don’t know how or when I’ll be able to pay those bills.” 

Dr. Allen Nussbaum, President of the Academy of Pediatrics 

The Academy represents 22,000 physicians in Pennsylvania and their members see firsthand the impact that lack of coverage has not just on kids but on entire families. 

Studies show that having parents who are insured has a positive affect in access to health care, and preventive services for the whole family. “Without health insurance for parents, families are more likely to go into debt and go without other financial needs in order to cover those health bills. When parents are healthy they share that healthy lifestyle with their children.”

Mark Murphy, Executive Director of the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania 

The Disability Rights Network advocates for persons with disabilities, and understands how critical stable, affordable access to health care is for everyone. Mr. Murphy noted that as much as 40% of the folks who’d be covered under the Medicaid expansion are living with some form of mental illness that’s going untreated. of those who will benefit are individuals dealing with mental illness. Taking new federal funding to expand coverage would relieve the burden on state taxpayers and allow more resources to fill in the holes left by major state budget cuts over the last 2 years. 

Representative Dan Frankel, lead sponsor of a bill to allow Pennsylvania to accept new funding to expand Medicaid coverage. 

“This should not be a partisan issue. Those who will benefit from the Medicaid expansion are not all Democrats, they are also Republicans.”

Rep. Frankel noted that over 40% of those who’d be newly eligible for coverage come from rural areas outside Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and that moving ahead to expand coverage is essential to giving these folks economic stability. 

“These are the people who cook our food, who care for our elderly, who keep our communities running and we owe this to them for all they do for us.”

Holly Dolan, Education and Outreach Coordinator, Lebanon Family Health Services

The Lebanon Family Health Clinic provides care to women, and see on a daily basis the struggles women go through to access preventive and primary care. Holly noted that 1 in 10 women in Pennsylvania are currently uninsured, even though they have a job -- and that women are disproportionately represented in employment arenas that do not offer insurance.  

Thomas Earl, CEO of Liberty Resources

Mr. Earl helps people with disabilities live with dignity and independence in their homes. He talked about the struggles facing the home care workers who care for his clients:

“Our home care workers who help people live independently in the community do not have health insurance themselves. We need to take advantage of this new opportunity to expand coverage and make sure all workers can focus on doing their jobs, not worrying about getting sick.”  

Rev. Sally Jo Snyder, United Methodist Clergy and Advocacy Director at the Consumer Health Coalition

“Religion believes that health care is a right. And because its a right this is the right thing to do.” Rev. Snyder laid out all the ways in which taking this deal is a WIN for Pennsylvania. She closed with a powerful reminder that “the tIme is always right to do the right thing” and right now is time to do the right thing. People can’t wait, and we cannot wait anymore either.” 

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