The Healthcare Is a Human Right Collaborative will gather in Portland, Maine, August 5th through 7th for a convening hosted by the Southern Maine Workers’ Center (SMWC). This year’s meeting will include a public event with SMWC’s local allies as well as strategy discussions and learning sessions on building multi-racial (and multi-generational and otherwise diverse) organizations and movements, shorter-term campaigns en route to universal healthcare, statewide organizing and strategic planning. In a time marked by police shootings of Black people, economic anxiety, xenophobia and other enormous challenges, the convening will also serve as a space for Collaborative members to support one another and to reflect on the role of Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns in intersectional movements for human rights and social, economic and racial justice.
In April, Ben Palmquist from NESRI represented the Collaborative at two talks. He spoke with Zakiya Sankara-Jabar from Racial Justice NOW! and Larry Bresler from Organize! Ohio on a panel hosted by the University of Dayton’s Human Rights Center on grassroots human rights movements in the United States, and at the annual meeting of the Single Payer Action Network Ohio.
Put People First! PA and NESRI participated in a strategy meeting in June focused on assessing the power of the insurance, hospital and pharmaceutical industries and exploring concrete ideas for how movement organizations and policy advocates can advance the human right to healthcare, particularly on the state level, now that the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land. Many of the ideas discussed in the meeting are presented in a strategy paper published by the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut earlier this year. The paper was authored by Richard Kirsch, Director of Our Story – The Hub for American Narratives and a Senior Fellow and Advisor with the Roosevelt Institute, USAction and the WhyNot Initiative.
After eight months of organizing efforts, Put People First! Pennsylvania is celebrating a big victory! PPF-PA won a public hearing on health insurance rate increases, the first ever such hearing in the state of Pennsylvania. Insurance companies are requesting to raise premiums by an average of up to 45% on some plans, and by as much as 154% in the most extreme cases.
The Pennsylvania Department of Insurance has scheduled the rate hearing on July 27th in Harrisburg. The hearing was called by the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance after PPF-PA met with Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller and members of her staff, delivered over 500 signatures to the Department’s headquarters, organized a call-in day, mobilized partners and allies, and rallied people to share their stories on Facebook and Twitter. The hearing is an opportunity for Pennsylvania residents to speak out about how insurance rate hikes impact their lives, and to demand greater transparency and public participation in decisions on insurance rates in Pennsylvania.
With the hearing less than two weeks away, PPF-PA is encouraging people to sign up to deliver testimony to the Department in writing or, better yet, in person at the hearing. If you live in Pennsylvania or know anyone who does, please fill out the registration form to testify or to help out with preparations and transportation.
In other news, PPF-PA’s Base Building Team ran three events in June: a membership drive in Philadelphia, tabling at Spectrum Health Services Community Health Fair in West Philly, and a leadership retreat and vigil in Johnstown. The vigil honored the life of Marie Funk, who passed away last year after she was belatedly diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer after being delayed and denied care by for-profit healthcare provider Senior LIFE.
For the second year in a row, members of PPF-PA volunteered at the Mission of Mercy free dental clinic in June. In addition to helping out with the clinic, they spoke with many people who have had trouble accessing healthcare and collected 43 surveys documenting people’s healthcare experiences. The 43 surveys are part of the organization’s second round of survey collection. PPF-PA is preparing to release a report based on the first 300 surveys it collected across two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s counties last year, and is simultaneously aiming to collect 500 more surveys by the end of this year.
During the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia July 25th through 28th, PPF-PA will be joining with medical students and other allies to demonstrate for the human right to healthcare.
Finally, PPF-PA is happy to welcome two new organizers to their team: Carla Christopher, the new Central PA field organizer, and Ben Fiorillo, the Southwest PA organizer.
This spring, the Southern Maine Workers’ Center joined with allies in Portland to oppose the closure of the city’s India Street Public Health Clinic, a vital public health center that offers free, low-barrier healthcare to some of the city’s communities with the greatest healthcare needs and the most limited access, including low-income people, members of the LGBTQ+ community, those living with addiction and those who are HIV+. The clinic came under threat in April when the City proposed a plan to defund the facility and transfer patients to a privately run facility, following a destructive trend towards the privatization of public goods. SMWC responded to the City’s proposal with a statement criticizing the lack of transparency and participation in deciding on budget priorities, and stressing how the plan threatens the health of many community members. Led by the clinic’s patients and volunteers, SMWC came together with other local organizations and community members to build a powerful movement protesting the city’s budget, organizing a large rally, gathering over 1,600 petition signatures and presenting testimony at public hearings. They won a partial victory by pushing city officials to compromise on their timeline, but many parts of the plan will move ahead.
SMWC also held two Healthcare Is a Human Right workshops this spring. The first meeting focused on raising awareness of classism in human rights movements and developing organizing strategies that unify across class. Part of an ongoing process at SMWC to integrate class analysis in their work, the discussion-driven session helped participants recognize the underlying assumptions about poor people and poverty that often characterize existing narratives and presented a critical look at the social “safety net”. In June, the second HCHR workshop featured professional storyteller Elise Pepple, who shared how storytelling can be a powerful tool for conveying messages, transforming communities and building solidarity around the movement for publicly financed healthcare.
SMWC members are now preparing to host the HCHR Collaborative convening, and are also analyzing data from surveys they’ve collected over the past three years in preparation for publishing a report. The surveys asked about people’s experiences with healthcare and evaluated support for a publicly-funded healthcare system. SMWC has also hired a new HCHR organizer, Ron Flannery.
The Vermont Workers’ Center (VWC) is organizing to stop high increases in insurance premiums requested by MVP Healthcare and Blue Cross Blue Shield Vermont, the two health insurance corporations selling insurance plans on the state exchange. The companies have requested average rate hikes of 8.2% and 8.8%, respectively. The Workers’ Center has set up an online form to collect testimony about how rate hikes affect people’s ability to get the care they need, and will submit responses as public comments to the Green Mountain Care Board, the governing agency. VWC is also organizing people to attend the hearings on July 20th and 21st in Montpelier to share their stories in person. If you live in Vermont or know anyone who does, please fill out the form or contact the Workers’ Center.
Healthcare Is a Human Right – Maryland has been exploring a new area of campaign work, the privatization of Medicaid. Maryland, like many other states, has increasingly outsourced administration of Medicaid to private insurance corporations, prioritizing an ideologically, profit-driven agenda over the health of people enrolled in the program. HCHR-Maryland is talking to people who are enrolled in Medicaid, talking to activists in other states who have campaigned against Medicaid privatization, and connecting with allies in Maryland who share a commitment to ensuring that Maryland delivers quality, comprehensive healthcare as a public good through the state’s Medicaid program.