Activism Matters!

Panorama in Philly

We did it!  YOU did it! The town halls and phone calls, the die-ins and sit-ins, the emails and voicemails, sharing your stories, the letters to the editor, the marches, the rallies – they mattered!  Demonstrating that our lives are on the line worked!

With majorities in both houses of Congress and the presidency, the Republicans couldn’t muster the votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  The Better Care Reconciliation Act appears to be dead.

On Friday it went on life support when Senator John McCain had emergency brain surgery.  With two firm no votes on the record from Senators Collins and Paul, the bill could not move forward until Senator McCain was well enough to return to work.

Then the plug was pulled on Monday night when Senators Lee and Moran said they would vote no.

Repeal and Delay is also dead.  It died earlier this year, when enough Republicans said they would not repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without replacing it simultaneously.  It came back to life for a few brief hours last night but was quickly killed off today when three women senators, Collins, Capito and Murkowski, all issued statements stating they would vote no.

Grassroots Activism Made the Difference

Blumenthal The CapeAs the voice of activists against repeal became louder, the share of people opposed to repeal and replacement plans grew.  Support for the ACA, also grew, with a majority of Americans now supporting the law, rather than opposing it.  More people noticed that, rather than failing, and admittedly far from perfect, the ACA was actually working.

Meanwhile, grassroots supporters for repeal were strangely quiet.  The enthusiasm gap was noticeable.

So, can we break out the champagne, celebrate?  Absolutely.

Can we take the rest of the summer off?  Absolutely NOT.

While it appears we may have won this latest battle, until we know for sure that Majority Leader McConnell is truly done, we will have to remain vigilant.

And the job to defend the ACA, Medicaid, Medicare, women’s reproductive health is far from over.

Resist and Persist

Here are just a few of the upcoming threats to health care:

  • Slow motion repeal and sabotage:  Continued efforts to undermine the ACA by refusing to lock in payments of cost sharing subsidies or not enforcing the individual mandate
  • Cuts to women’s health programs, such as the recent cancellation of grants to teen pregnancy prevention programs
  • House GOP 2018 budget proposes huge cuts to Medicare and Social Security
  • President Trump’s budget would cut Medicaid funding in half
  • Further ACA or Medicaid cuts could be achieved by holding the upcoming reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) hostage
  • Other hostage opportunities include requirements to raise the debt ceiling and vote on a   budget continuing resolution if a 2018 budget hasn’t been passed by October 1

Universal Health Care Foundation is working with Protect Our Care Connecticut on actions and next steps to keep the momentum going.  As a start, we are planning a Connecticut-based Our Lives Are On The Line event for July 29.  

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Important First Step on Prescription Drug Affordability

By Jill Zorn

pills-moneyMore and more people in Connecticut can’t afford their prescriptions.  That’s why it was great news when a bill aimed at lowering prescription drug costs for consumers, SB 445, was signed into law by Governor Malloy on July 10.

The bill had bi-partisan support, reflecting its co-sponsors, Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney and Senate Republican President Pro Tem Len Fasano.

SB 445 bans “gag clauses” in contracts between pharmacists and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) to enable pharmacists to share prescription drug price information with patients and let them know if a lower cost equivalent alternative is available.  PBMs manage prescription drug costs and access on behalf of insurance companies and employer and government health plans.

The bill also bans “clawbacks” by PBMs which force the pharmacy to charge a patient co-pay, even if the drug costs less than the co-pay.  It will make sure that PBMs don’t pocket the difference between the co-pay and the actual price.

Another provision of the bill allows the Attorney General to collect damages from successful anti-trust law suits against pharmaceutical companies filed on behalf of Connecticut residents who have overpaid for their prescription drugs due to price fixing or other anti-competitive behaviors.  This is important because Attorney General George Jepsen and his staff are currently leading 40 states in a major antitrust case against six generic drug manufacturers.

Universal Health Care Foundation supported the bill and we are pleased to see it made it across the finish line.  Connecticut now joins four other states that have passed similar legislation.  It is an important first step in protecting consumers from paying too much for their medications.

But there is much work left to do to address drug price gouging and the lack of transparency about prescription drug prices.

Next Steps

It’s encouraging to see the Health Care Cabinet has formed four working groups that are focusing on prescription drug affordability.  The groups will start meeting this summer and Foundation president, Frances Padilla, is chairing one of them.

We expect legislators on both sides of the aisle, including Senators Looney and Fasano, will continue to address this issue in the 2018 legislative session.  We look forward to working with them and other advocacy groups to raise awareness and push for solutions to the problem of unaffordable and unfair prescription drug prices.

If you have a story to tell about problems with affording your medications, please send us at email at:  info@universalhealthct.org.


To Learn More:

To track the progress of the Cabinet working groups go here and scroll down to the working groups section.

To learn more about the Attorney General’s antitrust case go here and here.

SB 445 hit some bumps in the road during the legislative process, particularly near the end of the session when Insurance Commissioner Katharine Wade raised some objections to the bill.  To learn more about the controversy, go here, here and here.  In an unusual move, Gov. Malloy wrote a letter expressing concerns about the bill on the day he signed it (see the letter at the end of Bill Notification Release 16).

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Call to Action:  Speak out on the terrible Senate health care bill!

A new version of the Senate bill to repeal and replace the ACA, is coming out today.  All indications are that it is still a terrible bill that will take health care away from millions and decimate Medicaid, in order to give tax breaks to the wealthy.

The bill is on a fast track – so the time to speak out is now.

Crafted in secret, as usual, an outline of the newest version was released today at a Republicans-only meeting of Senators. The CBO score on its impact is expected on Monday.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising a vote on the bill by the middle of next weekIf the Senate approves a bill, it will be sent immediately to the House of Representatives for a vote.

Opportunities to have your voice heard: 

Contact Senators Blumenthal and Murphy and your House member. See below for their contact information

  • Thank them for their strong opposition to efforts to repeal the ACA and undermine Medicaid.
  • Encourage them to continue to oppose the Republican bill.
  • Share a story about the impact of the ACA and Medicaid on you or someone you know.

 

Attend Senator Blumenthal’s Emergency Field Hearing in New London on Friday

Show up to be counted or to tell your story.

WHEN: Friday, July 14, 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM

WHERE: Mitchell College, New London — Weller Center, on second floor of Clark Building (*Parking available in the Montauk Avenue lot)

Please RSVP to courtney_chandler@blumenthal.senate.gov and indicate in your response whether you intend to testify.

 

Attend Friday’s Mike Pence: TrumpCare is GOP WealthCare rally in Providence RI, where the Vice President will be speaking to the National Governors Association

Protect Our Care RI, SEIU Rhode Island, and Indivisible RI are hosting a rally against the efforts to take away the healthcare of millions of Americans for the sake of tax breaks on the wealthy, and they’re asking for people from neighboring states to join them.

WHEN: Friday, July 14, 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM

WHERE: Burnside Park, across from Kennedy Plaza, Providence, RI

Check out the Facebook event page here

 

Attend Representative Esty’s Open Forum on Sunday, which includes “Protecting & defending quality affordable health care for all” on the agenda

Open Forum for all 5th District Residents

Representative Elizabeth Esty is coming to Western CT Civic Action

Also speaking is Nick Maroletti from Senator Chris Murphy’s “Fight Back CT campaign”

Key Issues:

  • Protecting & Defending Quality Affordable Health Care for All
  • Fighting for A Safe and Clean Environment
  • Ensuring Fair & Just Immigration System

WHEN: Sunday, July 16, 4:30PM to 6:00 PM

WHERE: Bridgewater Congregational Church, 10 Clapboard Road, Bridgewater, CT

See the Facebook event page here

 

Contact information for our Senators and Representatives

Senator/Representative CT Office DC Office Website (for email)
Richard Blumenthal 860-258-6940  (Htfd)

203-330-0598 (B’port)

202-224-2823 Blumenthal.senate.gov
Chris Murphy 860-549-8463 202-224-4041 Murphy.senate.gov
Joe Courtney 860-886-0139 202-225-2076 Courtney.house.gov
Rosa DeLauro 203-562-3718 202-225-3661 DeLauro.house.gov
Elizabeth Esty 860-223-8412 202-225-4476 Esty.house.gov
Jim Himes 203-333-6600 202-225-5541 Himes.house.gov
John Larson 860-278-8888 202-225-2265 Larson.house.gov 

 

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Getting to Single Payer, Part I

By Jill Zorn

chess-pawn-social-mobilityWith all the political turmoil surrounding the possible repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and destruction of Medicaid, support for single payer health care is growing.  This is the first in a series of blogs that will dig into the topic of single payer – what are the hurdles and how can we overcome them.

Almost every day now, there is a new blog, an op-ed or an article touting the advantages of single payer/Medicare for All/Medicaid for All.  And the polls are showing that single payer is becoming more popular.

The most recent Kaiser Health Tracking poll shows that a majority of Americans (53%) now support single payer health care.  Another survey done in April reported that 61% favored, “Creating a federally funded health insurance system that covered every American” (see page 89 of the report).

So why is it so hard for this dream to become a reality?

I think it comes down to two very powerful forces:  individuals FEARING they will be worse off, and health industry players KNOWING they are likely to be worse off.

To move toward single payer, supporters should understand these forces and develop a strategic path forward that consciously addresses them.

Individuals’ fears of being worse off

Most people are satisfied with the health insurance coverage and access to care that they have, which makes them risk-averse to change.

Charles Gaba, a well-known blogger and tweeter on health care policy, devotes a section of his terrific article , A Zero BS Guide to American Healthcare published on Cracked.com (yes, the “humor” website) to this phenomenon.  Part 4 of his article is entitled, “People Don’t Like Having Their Healthcare Messed With.” Here’s the gist: “When half the people like the way things are, it’s incredibly difficult to get them to change, even if the other half are getting screwed.”

Another blogger, Jon Walker, has written a thoughtful four-part series on the road to single payer.  He explains “status quo bias” in one of those blogs, Fighting for Universal Health Care at the Federal Level:

Resistance to change is one of strongest forces in politics. Even if change might improve things for 90 percent of people, many fear uncertainty, and the 10 percent, whose lives will be worse off, find a way to disproportionately make their voices heard.

Many good ideas with broad support have failed because the public feared implementation could go wrong…The failure to address status quo bias has undermined many efforts. Groups often get too focused on selling the long term benefits of their plans when what many people are most concerned about are the short term disruptions.

Don’t forget, health care is personal.  As Richard Kirsch writes in his book about the battle to get the ACA passed, Fighting For Our Health,

…when we care about something so deeply, change can also be terrifying.  Specific solutions prompt people to ask, how will that change affect me?  Will I be worse off than I am now? What will I lose? (p.32)

Opponents know how to prey on these fears.  They raise the specter of a big, uncaring, incompetent government bureaucracy being in charge of your health care.  Never mind that this ignores that Medicare is a government program that everyone likes – this tactic often works.

For example, the same Kaiser poll cited above reports that supporters of single payer can become opponents when a pointed question is asked whether they favor “government control over health care” or whether they support requiring Americans to “pay more in taxes” (See Figure 4).

Taxes

Not only do people fear having worse health coverage, they definitely dread having to pay more for it in the form of higher taxes.

As Matthew Yglesias wrote in Vox this week, there is a history of single payer plans losing steam, “Once they started to get specific about taxes.”  Employers spend a lot of money on health insurance, but those dollars are in the private sector and are largely hidden from view.  Most employees aren’t aware of how much their employer is paying for their insurance premiums.  These employer expenses are also made with tax exempt dollars, but again, that is a hidden government subsidy.  When these largely concealed dollars are turned into a tax bill and included in a government budget, “you are talking about a big chunk of change becoming an explicit public-sector cost.”

Needless to say, opponents know how to prey on the fear of tax increases, too.  As Jon Walker points out in his most recent blog post, An Easy Way to Solve the Medicare For All Tax Problem, they are good at highlighting “big scary numbers”, both tax increases and government budget increases, to scare people away from single payer solutions.

The next blog post will be about industry fears.  After that, the series will discuss the pros and cons of implementing single payer at the state versus federal level.

For previous Foundation blogs on this topic see:

How We Can Eventually Get to Medicare for All

Improved Medicare for All

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A Broker’s View: GOP Health Care Bill Will Hurt Many

Guest Blog by Joseph McDonagh

As an insurance agent, I reviewed the latest Republican health care bills for their impact on my clients who buy health insurance through Access Health CT, the state’s health insurance exchange.  I compared these new bills with the Affordable Care Act (ACA aka Obamacare) – which the GOP bills aim to “repeal and replace”

What can we expect from the House’s American Health Care Act of 2017, or the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017?  Much commentary regarding the Senate bill has compared it to the House bill, which isn’t helpful.

Here are my key concerns:

Under the ACA, when you buy insurance through an exchange, you may be eligible for assistance in paying your premium.  These subsidies are called an “Advanced Premium Tax Credit.”  Tax credits are offered to anyone whose Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is between 138% to 400% of the Federal Poverty Level.  (If you have an AGI below 138% you are eligible for Medicaid).

If you are eligible for tax credits, the goal is to ensure that the Silver Standard plan won’t cost you more than 9.5% of your AGI.  (All plans are metal-coded, the best being Platinum, then Gold, Silver and Bronze.)

The proposed Senate bill eliminates the terms Silver and Bronze (making it harder to compare options).  The standard for tax credits would become “58% of the full actuarial benefit,” a phrase guaranteed to make your eyes glaze over.

What does that mean?  Well, that is the low end of what is currently a Bronze plan (58-62%).

So, the Senate bill would raise deductibles and maximum out-of-pocket expenses for anyone entitled to a tax credit, because the tax credits would adjust a much, much less generous plan’s premium. 

How much?  The Silver Standard Plan in Connecticut has a $4,000 annual deductible; the Bronze plan’s deductible is $6,000, and the deductible would be applied to many more health care services than the Silver plan.

But there’s another catch. 

Instead of a standard of 9.5% of AGI as the maximum cost for health insurance, the Senate bill would establish a standard that changes based on age, dramatically harming older insured consumers.  

 The maximum cost for those 60 and older could reach 16.2% of income, meaning that the tax credit will be much lower, and would be applied to a much less generous policy.  Silver Standard plans are roughly 50% more expensive than the Bronze Standard plans.

Here’s another important change.

The maximum income to receive tax credits would drop from 400% of Federal Poverty Level to 350%.  That means that a married couple’s maximum income to receive tax credits, drops from $64,080 to $56,070.

The Senate bill is bad deal for people 60-64 year old.

This year, my clients who are 61 and 60 years old, and whose income is under $57,000, can buy a Silver Standard plan for which they pay $460 per month.  Next year, they would pay $770 per month for a Bronze Standard plan (with a deductible 50% higher).  To get that same Silver Standard plan, their premium would increase to $1,310 per month.

There is no doubt that this represents a very bad deal for many of my clients who are already struggling to make ends meet.

 

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BREAKING NEWS: Senate delays vote on GOP health care bill

Your calls and action are making a difference in D.C.

Thousands upon thousands of people have stood up across the country and urged the U.S. Senate to vote NO on the bad, so-called “Better Care Reconciliation Act.”

Today, Senator Mitch McConnell announced that the bill will not be taken up for before the July 4 recess. Click here to read more.  

We can all take a moment to breathe a sigh of relief – but we can’t stop the fight!

Republican “hold out” Senators will have their arms twisted throughout the July recess:

  • Trump is meeting with the GOP Senators this afternoon
  • Senator McConnell has a $200 billion “slush fund” that can be used to sweeten the deal for “hold-out” Senators to change their votes to YES

We must not stop our advocacy.

Please join with other advocates and activists on Wednesday, June 28 for a CT rally:  Wednesday, June 28 – 5:30-7:30 p.m. outside the Yale School of Medicine, 333 Cedar Street, New Haven (Join with other groups and activists, bring your own signs): Here’s the Facebook event page.

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3 Actions You Can Take Against the Bad Health Care Bill in D.C.

call2actionThe U.S. Senate is poised to take action on their bill to gut the Affordable Care Act (ACA) this week.

The ACA replacement, the so-called “Better Care Reconciliation Act” will do much more harm than good.  Read more about it here.

Last week, the Protect Our Care CT Campaign and Universal Health Care Foundation of CT organized “Lives on the Line” — to illustrate how everyday people will be adversely affected by the bad health care bill being considered in D.C. right now. Check out the video here and Twitter updates here.

Here are 3 actions you can take in the next few days to stand up against this bad bill:

#1 – Call Connecticut’s U.S. Senators, Blumenthal and Murphy, and let them know you oppose this bill.  Also – thank them for fighting against it.  They want these calls so they can say that their constituents oppose the bill.

  • Senator Richard Blumenthal – 202-224-2823
  • Senator Chris Murphy – 202-224-4041

#2 – Attend the Connecticut protest rally against this bill:

  • Wednesday, June 28 – 5:30-7:30 p.m. outside the Yale School of Medicine, 333 Cedar Street, New Haven (Join with other groups and activists, bring your own signs): Here’s the Facebook event page

#3 – Join the people’s filibuster in Washington, D.C. — organized by dozens of advocacy organizations:

  • 10 a.m. Tuesday, June 27 through to Thursday night, June 29 in D.C. outside the U.S. Capitol. Check this site for updates.
  • 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 28 there will a group encircling the U.S. Capitol: Here’s the Facebook event page

Thanks for standing up to Protect Our Care!

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