Report from DC: 700 advocates come together for Families USA Health Action 2017

by Rosana Garcia

imag2014

Last week, Jill Zorn and I attended the Families USA Health Action 2017 Conference in Washington, DC, to represent the Foundation, and to learn from others.

In this critical time for health care, it was inspiring to gather with almost 700 health advocates from all across the country.  Most importantly, we were all reminded what’s at stake for everyone as changes are proposed to our health care system — especially those changes that may make health insurance coverage less accessible and more expensive.

Health care is something that we all need, sooner or later.  It can mean life or death for some — and can improve our quality of life, provide good jobs, and is a cornerstone to our society.  Health care is a human right and there’s a lot on the line.

Want to know what’s at stake in Connecticut?  Check out our fact sheet: What’s at Stake in CT? How your health care could change.

I’ve gathered together my Tweets on the conference, you can check it out here in my Health Action 2017 Storify.

Families USA has posted their: Our Favorite Moments from Health Action 2017 and a Storify collection of Tweets from the conference.

You can even check out the videos from all the plenary speakers here.  I felt particularly proud of Representative Rosa DeLauro from Connecticut.  Some of my favorites included:

  • Reverend Dr. William Barber, President of the North Carolina NAACP and leader of the Moral Mondays movement, who reminded us that health care and social justice are not a left or right issue, but a moral issue
  • Dr. Atul Gawande, who told heartbreaking stories about what was at stake, and reminded us that medical care has moved from hospitals and heroics to incremental, preventive care
  • Sister Simone Campbell, Executive Director of NETWORK, who gave us four virtues for 21st century advocacy: 1) Practice a modicum of joy.  2) Holy curiosity —  Listen, really listen, to everyone’s stories.  3) Sacred gossip — When you hear stories, share them.  4) Do your part — just your part.  Trust others to do theirs.

So what can you do?

  • We’re ready to listen to your story — reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter, or email us at info@universalhealthct.org.
  • Speak up to our leaders.  In fact, Senator Blumenthal has two events this weekend:
    • Saturday February 25, 1:30 p.m. at Wilbur Cross High School, New Haven
    • Sunday, February 26, 1:00 p.m. at Central Connecticut State University, New Britain
Posted in Rosana Garcia | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Congress in Recess: Tell Them YOUR Health Care Story

By Lynne Ide

blogStarting on February 18, Congress will be in recess for a week. Connecticut’s five U.S. Representatives and two U.S. Senators will be back in state and hitting the road to talk with constituents.

If you care about health care – whether it be the Affordable Care Act (ACA or Obamacare), Medicare, Medicaid/HUSKY or women’s health programs – you should know that each of these important programs are subject to elimination or drastic change if the new leadership in Washington, D.C. has its way.

Next week is a good time for you to let your voice be heard.  

Tell your U.S. Representative and your two U.S. Senators what health care means to you.

Connecticut’s Congressional delegation is supportive of the health care programs we all count on.  They are already working to protect our care, but they need us to stand with them.

They want to know your story because it will help them fight protect our care.

  • Have you or a loved one benefitted from the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid/HUSKY or women’s health programs?  How has it helped you, and what would it mean if you lost that care?
  • Are you spending too much for prescription drugs, health insurance premiums, co-pays and deductibles?  How can Congress help people like you get the care you need at a cost you can afford?

Here are events that we know of scheduled for next week: 

(Note: Details are still being worked out for some of these events.  We will update this list on our blog as we get information from Congressional offices.)

  • The Future of Healthcare in American: A Forum on the Affordable Care Act with U.S. Representative  Joe Courtney (2nd Congressional District) Saturday, February 18  12:30 – 2 p.m. at Generations Family Health Center, 40 Mansfield Avenue, Willimantic
  • Town Hall Meeting with U.S. Representative Jim Himes (4th Congressional District)  Wednesday, February 22  6:30 p.m. at Bridgeport City Hall, 45 Lyon Terrace, Bridgeport
  • Press Conference re: Economics of ACA Repeal with U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (3rd Congressional District) highlighting tax breaks for the wealthy if the Affordable Care Act is repealed – Friday, February 24 10:30 a.m. at Connecticut State Medical Society, 127 Washington Avenue (East Building, 3rd floor), North Haven
  • Event with U.S. Representative John Larson (1st Congressional District) – Saturday, February 18 10:00 a.m. – noon at the Berlin Senior Center, 33 Colonial Drive, Berlin
  • Event with U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty (5th Congressional District) – No health care event in scheduled in the 5th CD
  • Town Hall Meeting with U.S. Senator Chris Murphy Tuesday, February 21 7:30 p.m. at West Hartford Town Hall Auditorium, 50 South Main Street, West Hartford
  • General Town Hall Meeting with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, Saturday February 25 1:30 p.m. at Wilbur Cross High School, New Haven and Sunday, February 26 1:00 p.m. at Central Connecticut State University, New Britain

You can also call your Congressperson and U.S. Senators directly: 

  • U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal: 860-258-6940
  • U.S. Senator Chris Murphy: 860-549-8463
  • U.S. Rep. John Larson (1st CD): 860-278-8888
  • U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney (2nd CD): 860-886-0139
  • U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (3rd CD): 203-562-3718
  • U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (4th CD): 203-333-6600
  • U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty (5th CD): 860-223-8412

There will be lots of opportunity for your advocacy and action in the coming months.  Please let us know if you want to be notified about upcoming events and let us know if there is a particular health care program you’d like to help defend.  Contact us at: info@universalhealthct.org 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Another Victory for Connecticut Consumers: Anthem-Cigna Merger Blocked

by Jill Zorn

Plastic stamp in hand, isolated

In a victory for Connecticut consumers, the proposed Anthem-Cigna mega-merger has been blocked by U.S. District Judge Amy Jackson Berman.  This decision follows by just a few weeks the ruling of another federal judge to block the proposed Aetna-Humana merger.

While Anthem and Cigna claimed the merger would mean economies of scale, greater efficiencies and more innovation, the court found the deal would, “increase prices and reduce competition.”  In fact, the Judge was very clear that she doubted that allowing the formation of a huge monopoly that would then put pressure on provider prices would actually result in savings for consumers.

“Anthem is asking the Court to go beyond what any court has done before: to bless this merger because customers may end up paying less to healthcare providers for the services that the providers deliver even though the same customers are also likely to end up paying more for what the defendants sell… Anthem is encouraging the Court to ignore the risks posed by the proposed constriction in the health insurance industry.”

Today’s news is the culmination of a fight that Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut began waging, in conjunction with many allies and partners, over a year ago.

We began raising red flags about both the Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers in December 2015.  We quickly decided that we couldn’t do this work alone and decided to form a coalition with the Connecticut State Medical Society (CSMS) and the Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG).  Working together, we were able to get the word out about the harm these mergers would cause as well as recruit other individuals and organizations to join us in opposing them.

The foundation focused on enlisting the help of other national and state-based health care advocacy groups.  One crucial professional relationship we developed was with Attorney David Balto, a consumer-oriented anti-trust lawyer, and his Coalition to Protect Patient Choice.  Other national groups that provided crucial advice and assistance included Consumers Union Healthcare Value HubFamilies USA and Universal Health Care Action Network.

Thanks to these contacts and our partnership with CSMS and CCAG, we succeeded in getting 43 groups from around the country to send a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) urging the DOJ to use its “expertise and enforcement power to protect people from the harm these mergers will cause.”

One major focus of our efforts was to highlight concerns about the potential conflict of interest posed by Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade’s close ties to Cigna.  Despite these connections, the Commissioner had refused to recuse herself from presiding over the expected hearing that the Connecticut Insurance Department would hold to review the Anthem-Cigna merger.

The conflict of interest story was amplified by the persistent coverage from a national investigative journalist, David Sirota, writing for the International Business Times.  By late June, the foundation succeeded in getting over 600 people to sign our petition asking the Commissioner to resign.

As the time grew closer for DOJ to decide whether they would  oppose the mergers in court, Connecticut elected officials weighed in with their concerns, including Senator Richard Blumenthal, and State Comptroller Kevin Lembo.

Along the way, the foundation had several opportunities to speak directly with staff at the Connecticut Attorney General’s office as well as DOJ officials and express our misgivings about the mergers and the Insurance Department review process.  And we began to prepare for the public hearing that the Insurance Department would hold on the Anthem-Cigna merger.

In the end, that hearing was never held.  Instead, in July the DOJ decided to oppose both the Aetna-Humana and Anthem-Cigna mergers in court.  Attorney General George Jepsen signed on with ten other states and the District of Columbia in opposition to the Anthem-Cigna deal.

With the cases filed, we followed the trials and awaited the judges’ decisions.  Which brings us to today’s news, that the long, uphill struggle to stop these mergers has been won, at least for now.

Technically, the fight isn’t over.  Anthem has already announced they will file an appeal and we are waiting to hear what Aetna will do.

But for now, it feels good to see that the courts sided with consumers and not huge corporations, ruling to block the mergers and protect Connecticut residents from the fewer choices, job losses and higher prices they would cause.

Insurance Merger Denied-FINAL.png

 

Posted in Jill Zorn, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Trumpcare: “If You Break It, You Own It.”

By Jill Zorn

thumbnail_pottery1

Last week Republicans headed to a meeting in Philadelphia, aiming to reach agreement on a plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), but it seems they left Philadelphia without any clear consensus on how to proceed.  In fact, a secret recording of the meeting that was sent to the media shows that some of them are actually getting nervous about the rush to repeal the ACA:

“We’d better be sure that we’re prepared to live with the market we’ve created” with repeal, Rep. Tom McClintock said, according to the Washington Post. “That’s going to be called Trumpcare. Republicans will own that lock, stock, and barrel, and we’ll be judged in the election less than two years away.” (See this Slate article)

As John Osborn points out in this Forbes article, McClintock’s remarks are an echo of, “Colin Powell’s infamous ‘Pottery Barn rule’ uttered in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq: if you break it, you own it.”

Part of the disarray that Republicans find themselves in, is due to the mobilization of thousands of people across the country opposing repealing the ACA without a replacement plan ready to go.  All of the calls to congress, attendance at town hall meetings and demonstrations are clearly having an impact.  There are multiple national and local groups working on this resistance effort and it’s important to keep it up.

No Agreement on Goals

as Sarah Kliff points out in Vox, is that Republicans’ lack clear policy goals, beyond dismantling the ACA.  As a result, their anti-ACA rhetoric often seems in conflict with their ACA replacement proposals.

For example, ACA critics from the right complain loudly about the high deductibles and co-pays that characterize plans available from the marketplaces, and point to them as part of the reason the ACA must be repealed.  But all Republican replacement proposals issued to-date rely to an even larger extent on health plans with high out-of-pocket costs, with less assistance with premiums.  And, if they are truly worried about affordability, why do  many of those same proposals eliminate the expansion of Medicaid to cover single adults all together?

The reality is that free market principles alone cannot maintain current coverage levels.  Here is the Forbes article, again:

“It is fascinating to observe the spectacle of politicians struggling to adhere to ideological principles that simply cannot be reconciled with the facts on the ground…Republicans despise federal government mandates and subsidies. But in their honest reflections, they know that Obamacare can’t be fixed without them and that their “replacement” plans will not meaningfully help those that cannot otherwise afford health insurance.”

Despite this lack of agreement, ACA repeal still seems to be very much on the table, and we face the very real possibility of a repeal vote without a clear replacement plan in sight.

Slow Motion Repeal

In the unlikely event that Republicans can’t quite bring themselves to pull the trigger on repeal, they are clearly implementing an alternative strategy of inaction and confusion that could have dire consequences for the ACA.

For example, insurers, like Connecticut-headquartered Aetna, continue to indicate that they view the ACA marketplaces as too risky.  The uncertainty inherent in a repeal-with-no-replace approach will only lead to greater marketplace instability and fewer insurers electing to participate in 2018 open enrollment, further weakening the program.

Another example of slow motion repeal is that the Trump administration significantly cut advertising spending in the crucial last four days of open enrollment.  Those ads were specifically aimed at younger, healthier people, needed to help stabilize the ACA risk pool.

Last week, the Trump administration issued an executive order regarding the ACA, which seems intentionally designed to sow confusion about the future of the program.

This statement by Sen. Patty Murray, reported in the February 1 edition of the on-line daily newsletter Politico Pulse, sums up the current situation:

“I want to be very clear: while my colleagues on the other side of the aisle do not have a plan, they are creating Trumpcare by sabotage.” ….”It is a broken system of chaos and uncertainty that will hurt, not help, families.”

So, even if the Republicans are not sure how to proceed, the administration is carrying out its own version of ACA repeal while millions of lives remain on the line.

Posted in Jill Zorn, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

#Fight4Better is What We Need

uhcf-social-media-banner-fb-option-2By Lynne Ide

Here we are in week three of the legislative session in Hartford.  What is going to happen with health care?

All eyes have been focused on Washington, D.C. and the health care agendas put forth by President Trump and a newly empowered Congress.

Almost daily there seems to be another march, rally, call-in day or action to protect the health care programs we all count on, whether it be the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid or women’s health.

The fight against the bad stuff coming down from our nation’s Capitol does not get our state off the hook to make change that helps people like you and me. 

Universal Health Care Foundation of CT believes that our state elected officials should stand up against Washington-led efforts to decimate our health care – and work on the things that states can do to help make our lives better.

Before the November elections, we put out a new slogan:

Fight4Better: Better care. Better prices. Better health.

Now the political landscape has changed – but the needs and hopes of everyday people struggling to pay for – and get access to – the quality care they need remain the same.

Out-of-pocket health care costs are too much for too many.  Co-pays, deductibles and premium sharing are eating up more and more of our household budgets.

Prescription drug prices are out of control – causing people to choose between getting the medicine they need or paying basic household expenses.

Big hospital systems and mega-sized insurance companies are raising costs for all of us – without necessarily providing better care or accountability to the people they serve. 

Hartford could take action on these ideas in 2017:

  • Help protect people from rising prescription drug prices: Improve price transparency, cut or cap out-of-pocket costs for consumers, and penalize price gouging.
  • Set standards for all hospitals (nonprofit and for-profit): Hold hospitals accountable to meet community health needs and the state’s Healthy CT 2020 public health goals, as well as use best practices to engage community stakeholders in Community Health Needs Assessments, Implementation Plans and design of Community Benefits.
  • Create consumer affordability standards for insurance rate review: Require the state’s Insurance Department to develop consumer affordability measures for consideration in approving annual insurance premium requests.
  • Coordinate the state’s health care policy functions: Establish an Office of Health Strategy to better coordinate the state’s health care initiatives and functions, as well as respond to shifting federal policy – and pay attention to cost trends, quality of care and data needs.
  • Protect state residents from federal action that erodes access to, and quality of care: move to codify the gains made in care and coverage via the Affordable Care Act, and commit state resources to at-risk programs, such as women’s health and Medicaid.

That’s a big list.  Progress in all of these areas is important.

Connecticut must not sit back and think the fight is only in Washington, D.C.

The #Fight4Better is right here in our back yard.

Posted in Lynne Ide | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Marching Together for Change

By Jill Zorn

From ABC News

From ABC News

I was fortunate enough to attend the Women’s March on Washington, where 500,000 people gathered peacefully to, “create change from the grassroots level up.”

Numbers

The mission statement of the March included this phrase, highlighting the importance of both diversity and numbers:

‘In the spirit of democracy and honoring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore.’ 

The goal of numbers “too great to ignore” was certainly met.  Women’s Marches occurred in over 500 cities in the U.S. and in total may have been the largest demonstration in U.S. history.

A University of Connecticut professor, Jeremy Pressman, is compiling a spreadsheet with a political science colleague from the University of Denver, Erica Chenoweth, showing the number of locations and their size.  Their data show that between 3.2 million and 4.7 million people participated, which means as many as one in 100 of all Americans attended a March.

Here in Connecticut, an estimated 10,000 people attended in Hartford and 5,000 in Stamford.  Dozens of marches also occurred in other places all over the world.

Why We Marched

At its core, the March was about “the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families – recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country.”  It was about protest and about speaking up, about sending a “bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world, that women’s rights are human rights.”

Beyond a focus on women’s rights, it was a “big tent” event, with many concerns on the minds of marchers including civil rights, immigration rights and LGBTQ rights.  People also were there because of concerns about specific issues like health care, women’s reproductive rights and climate change.

But the March was about more than numbers and more than issues.  It was about who was there, and what it felt like to be there.  Among the extremely diverse crowd, there was a palpable feeling of solidarity and purpose that we all shared.

My two daughters and my best friend from college found ourselves packed together in very close quarters between the Air and Space Museum and the Hirshhorn Museum with thousands of strangers of different ages, genders, races, ethnicities and abilities.  No matter who you were standing next to you could turn to your neighbor, talk with them and feel a unique level of understanding, support and common ground.

As one marcher wrote on the Women’s March on Washington Facebook page,

“The most impressive aspect was the calm, positive, grass roots nature with so many generations and backgrounds coming together to elevate the discussion on our values.”

We marveled at the multiplicity of signs and more signs and the wide range of spontaneous chants.  Here’s one of my favorite chants: “We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!” After standing on my feet for hours as the speaking/rally portion of the event (which we couldn’t hear and could barely see on a distant jumbotron) ran almost an hour longer than planned, this was perhaps my second favorite chant: “Time to stop talking, let’s start walking!”

What’s Next?

The March was an expression of grassroots power, but now that power has to be channeled and organized.  The web site of the Women’s March on Washington web site is now highlighting next steps, “10 Actions for the first 100 days.”

Many other resources are out there, too.  “Resistance” organizing guides are popping up, such as Indivisible.  With regard specifically to protecting access to health care, national groups like Families USA are leading the charge.  Locally, our foundation and organizations like Connecticut Citizen Action Group and Planned Parenthood are also working hard to keep people informed and point out ways they can become involved.

The March was a great energizing event, but now we must follow through and dig in for a long, tough fight.

In closing, here’s another of my favorite chants from the March, “This is what democracy looks like!”  If that is true, it’s now time to prove it.

Posted in Jill Zorn | Leave a comment

Improved Medicare for All

By Jill Zorn

medicareI attended the National Single-Payer-Strategy Conference in New York City this past weekend.

With the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Medicaid and even Medicare under threat by incoming President Trump and the Congress, single-payer advocates are more energized than ever to pursue their goal.  The meeting, co-sponsored by three organizations:  Healthcare-Now!, the Labor Campaign for Single-Payer Health Care and One Payer States, had over 600 people registered – the largest attendance ever for this annual conference.

Terminology

Here is how Healthcare-Now! defines single-payer:

The United States is the only country in the developed world that does not guarantee access to basic health care for residents. Countries that guarantee health care as a human right do so through a “single-payer” system, which replaces the thousands of for-profit health insurance companies with a public, universal plan.

In practice, many advocates have begun to refer to single-payer as Medicare for All, a term that was used successfully by the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign to draw attention to his health care policy.  Many people know what Medicare is, and Medicare is largely viewed favorably by the public.  In contrast, “single-payer” is a more insider term that isn’t widely known outside progressive circles.

Medicare for All also comes from the name of a single-payer bill, The Expanded and Improved Medicare For All Act (HR 676) that has been introduced for many years in the U.S. Congress, and will no doubt be introduced very soon as the 115th Congress gets underway.

Regardless of what it is called, the concept is popular.  In a poll conducted in June, more people favored replacing the ACA with a “federally funded healthcare system”, than preferred keeping the ACA.

Policy

It is hard to argue with single-payer as policy.  According to Physicians for a National Health Program, a prominent single-payer organization, an expanded and improved Medicare for All system would:

vastly simplify how the nation pays for care, improve patient health, restore free choice of physician, eliminate copays and deductibles, and yield substantial savings for individuals, families and the national economy.

Politics

It is in the politics of single-payer where the challenges lie.

During the health reform fight that culminated in passage of the ACA, lobbying groups like Big Pharma, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and America’s Health Insurance Plans fiercely opposed single-payer.  Even including a public option as part of the ACA was not politically feasible.  The lobbying clout of these groups has not disappeared.

Another major political hurdle is the fact that health coverage would change for everyone currently receiving insurance through their employers.  Even though they may not be 100% satisfied with the current health insurance system and support the concept of federally-funded insurance, many people may not truly be ready for such a massive change.

There is no way around the fact that a shift to a single-payer system would also mean tax increases for at least some Americans – never an easy political sell.

What Next?

The conference drove home that Medicare for All is a worthy vision for our health care system.  It was inspiring to be reminded of what we truly need:  guaranteed, quality health care for all; with far less complexity, waste and profiteering than our current system embodies.

But even though the policy arguments for single-payer seem more attractive than ever, the daunting political realities have not changed.   The movement for improved Medicare for All will have to become a lot more powerful if it is to overcome these huge challenges.

Posted in Jill Zorn, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment