Sunday, December 20, 2009

Phila NOW Supports SB400, PA's Single Payer Bill

Senate Banking and Insurance Committee
Senator Don White, Chairman
281 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3041
December 15, 2009

Dear Senators of the Banking and Insurance Committee,
The Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) asks for your support in passing SB400, the Family and Business Health Security Act, out of Committee to a full vote in the Senate. SB400 is vital to every working family in Pennsylvania, and to business owners small and large. For Pennsylvania women, this bill offers relief for long-standing systemic problems, problems that cost lives.

You will be asked today to consider the health and welfare of the citizenry versus the welfare of our current health care and insurance industry, which is a serious, difficult task, and your decision about this bill will be a tough decision. But just the fact that we, in this country, have evolved a system of care where ordinary citizens are pitted by the millions against an industry should be a signal that all is not right.

You are certainly familiar with the facts: Health care costs have skyrocketed, many times wages, crippling individuals and families and hampering business. And yet between 2000 and 2005, an estimated 450,000 fewer Pennsylvanians received health care through employment. In this same period, Pennsylvania health insurers profits soared, from $482 million in 2000 to $810 million in 2005, despite spending 40% less on actual health care.

It is also well known that women are underserved in the current system of health care delivery. Women receive less pay for the work they do than men to begin with, making insurance harder to buy. Women more often work part time jobs or minimum wage jobs that don't offer health care. They are more likely to own or work for the smallest businesses. In Pennsylvania, it's possible that if a woman does receive health benefits through her employer, it doesn't include maternity care, because this is not mandatory. And if an uninsured or underinsured woman becomes pregnant, she will have difficulty finding affordable insurance, since pregnancy in Pennsylvania can be considered a pre-existing condition.

Maternity accounts for 25% of all hospitalizations, and yet hospitals in Southeast Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the state have cut their maternity departments, overburdening nearby facilities. They rationalize their cuts by pointing to their bottom line and doing what's necessary to preserve it. That's fine if your business is manufacturing widgets. But if your business is providing health care, cutting a vital service to the community severely undermines the security of that community. These are just a few of the unfair market practices that leave the women of Pennsylvania, most often themselves caregivers to their families, more vulnerable to poor health outcomes than men.

Our current system is not a model of care at all, it's a model to protect profits. More and more public dollars are being asked to go to support this profit model. And it's a model that shoots itself in the foot. By making primary care so difficult for families to attain, even minor medical events become emergencies because people know they won't be denied care in a hospital emergency room. The General Assembly hears each year about the costs to hospitals of this behavior.  All studies project these issues to get worse, not improve, unless intelligent regulatory course correction is implemented.

Certainly the health care industry as currently configured and entrenched underpins a large section of our economy and it's important to act with precision. SB400 is a precise tool. There will be disruption; it is provided for in this bill. But health care services, unlike widgets, are a necessity. It will not take long for the health care sector to rebound. There will still be hospitals, there will still be doctors. But there will also be a new freedom within which individuals and businesses can operate and grow that can only benefit the Commonwealth.

If you but acknowledge the value to our citizens and our economy of creating this security in the lives of regular folk, if you but acknowledge that this principle is more important than protecting the profits of an industry simply because they exist, then all the questions about how you translate this conviction into reality will begin to be answered.

Our state's debate takes place concurrently with the national debate. It is all too easy to delay doing what needs to be done here in order to wait and see what happens elsewhere. But delay continues to cost lives. What is right for Pennsylvania is SB400. The case for the Family and Business Health Security Act has never been more clear or more strong. All it needs is the courage from our Senate to do what is right.

Thank you,

Caryn Hunt
President, Philadelphia NOW


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