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BAUMLIN: Healthcare Remains Unequal 56 Years After MLK Called for Change

Martin Luther King once said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane”.

Inhuman or Inhumane? Health or Healthcare? What did MLK say back in 1966, and what did he mean? Regardless, the unfortunate point is that we have come such a short way on the journey towards Health Equity. We still have a system where the wealthy and connected have one level of service and the poor, working poor and middle class get another. We still have a system of clinics and an ever rotating mix of providers and caregivers for the poor, and private providers with appointments and posh offices for those with wealth. We still have a system of fancy new single rooms for the wealthy, insured patients with complex diseases and overcrowded stretchers in the hallway for the ill, poor and disenfranchised. At what point do we restart the conversation and get back to accountable care that is focused on changing our payment model to honor and pay for primary and mental health care services?

We can start by making it better for all who are under 400 percent of the poverty line in this country, by making sure that they are covered by all-inclusive Medicaid plans.  We can make it better for all older adults so that they don’t have to worry about their health or health care as they age. Medicare clearly needs to cover all your care without supplements and must include prescriptions and dental care.

Our current system that allows insurance companies to require patients to “cover” as much as the first $9,000 (so called “deductibles”) of their yearly health care ON TOP of paying their monthly premiums is ridiculous and serves the for-profit insurance industry instead of patients.  We need to think of our healthcare system as a system whose goal is to provide great care, not a system that is focused on making money.

The global COVID pandemic and the more than 800,000 lives lost should have ignited a flame and a passion to discuss and work for meaningful change in our healthcare system. Instead we are stuck with radicalized anti-vax and anti-science right-wing talk show hosts (who are vaccinated), and their followers who continue to spew hate and misinformation for no reason other than to keep power rather than inspire and advocate for compassionate, reparational change.

Sadly, on this day of his remembrance MLK would be disappointed and frustrated by the callous lack of progress toward better Health and Healthcare for all in America.  We can do better.

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Uninsured Pennsylvanians Still Have Time to Sign Up for Health Insurance

Pennsylvanians in need of health insurance coverage for 2022 still have time to shop for it. Open enrollment through Pennie will continue through January 15, allowing Pennsylvania residents to select an affordable plan from a variety of insurance carriers.

Roughly 358,000 Pennsylvanians currently get their health insurance through Pennie. Some 48,000 of them have signed up during the ongoing enrollment period. The remainder enrolled last year and either renewed their existing plan or switched to another available through the exchange. A total of 13 carriers are offering individual health insurance plans through Pennie in 2022, although several of them have the same parent company.

Those who sign up for a plan between now and the cutoff date will see their coverage take effect on February 1.

Pennie is a state-run health-insurance portal created by the legislature in 2019 to replace as the official insurance exchange for Pennsylvanians (although the latter still exists). It was launched last fall to provide coverage for 2021.

Zach Sherman, Pennie’s executive director, cites the advantages of a state-run exchange.

“First and foremost was the reality that we could run and operate a state-based exchange,” he said. “Run by Pennsylvanians, serving Pennsylvanians at a much lower cost.”

Sherman says state-level control allows for flexibility.

“Right away, we extended open enrollment last year to January 15 (of 2021),” he said, “making the time Pennsylvanians could sign up a month longer than what it was through We have a dedicated call center where Pennsylvanians can call and get through and get support. If they don’t have a computer or don’t want to do it online, they can apply and enroll over the phone.”

Sherman says resources are available for those who need help with the enrollment process, whether they are computer savvy or not.

“We invested in more outreach in community-based organizations,” he said, “in non-profits, help centers where people can go to what are called assistors to sit with then, in person or virtually, to get one on one enrollment assistance.  And we worked really closely with the broker community to create a broker certification process and have partners in licensed insurance communities across the commonwealth. We have more than 3,000 brokers providing assistance through Pennie that people can get referred to.”

Support from assistors and brokers is also available online through the Pennie website or by calling 1-844-844-8040

Applicants should be aware that while assistors can provide information and answer questions, only licensed brokers can actually sell insurance.

At a recent press conference, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf touted the benefits of the Pennie program.

“Pennie is the one-stop-shop for Pennsylvanians’ health care needs,” he said. “With Pennie, Pennsylvanians have access to a variety of resources to help them understand how to apply, shop, and enroll in health coverage including access to people who can help them right in their community. Pennie also provides financial assistance for those who qualify, which means health care coverage is more affordable for Pennsylvanians. Now, more Pennsylvanians can access the care they deserve, ultimately giving more people the opportunity to live healthier lives.”

At the same news conference, Pennsylvania House Minority Leader Joanna (D-Delaware/Philadelphia) said, “We are living in a tragic age.” She noted that with the outbreak of COVID-19 and severe health disparities, insuring the underserved population is more critical than ever.

Pennsylvania State Senator Art Hayward (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery County) was an advocate for the Affordable Health Care Act, aka Obamacare, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in March of 2010. and later Pennie were created with the intent of providing every American affordable access to health insurance. He urged the uninsured to apply for coverage.

“Healthcare is freedom,” he said. “It’s freedom to live a longer life; it’s freedom to live a more independent life.”

Sherman stressed the importance of individuals having affordable access to health insurance, in particular those who don’t get insurance through an employer.

“Any of the individual marketplaces exist to provide quality insurance options to Pennsylvanians,” he said, “and very importantly, the financial assistance available to make it affordable to consumers.

“If the marketplace wasn’t there to support people navigating the process into the right plan for their health needs and their budget and providing financial assistance so they could pay for the plan, many, many more people would be uninsured.”


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