Employer-based health coverage is disappearing in PA

Jobless - No healthcare

by Randy Shannon

Employer health care drops faster in PA

Employer-based health coverage is disappearing faster in Pennsylvania than it is in any other state except Michigan, according to a study released by the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and the Washington, D.C.-based Economic Policy Institute. Since the turn of the century, there are 694,471 fewer people who receive their coverage from their employers across the state. The survey compared 2000 and 2001 to 2007 and 2008. Also, 201,425 fewer children are on their parents’ benefits packages than there were seven years earlier, the study found.

In light of these facts here are the thoughts of two concerned people in the PA 4th CD whose seat in the House is occupied by former corporate lobbyist Jason Altmire. The first is an email communication from Joel Brown of Espyville that tells about the suffering of our people who do not have access to healthcare. The second is an open letter to Cong. Altmire from Dr. Joe Talarico of Zelienople in response to his vote against healthcare reform.

Communication from Joel Brown:

     I opened your e-mail of Joe Talarico’s response to Jason Altmire’s health care vote and felt compelled to pass on a personal observation.  Last night I was in the Jamestown (PA) Volunteer Fire Department’s Social Hall.  Sitting next to me was a man in his late 40’s with silver duct tape wrapped around the first and second fingers of his right hand.  He told me he was working on his furnace a couple of days ago and badly cut himself on some sheet metal.  He should have gone to the emergency room for care but did not have any health insurance.  HE BONDED THE CUT WITH SUPER GLUE THEN WRAPPED HIS WOUND WITH DUCT TAPE!  He explained to me that he was laid off from his job, collecting $250.00 a week in unemployment benefits and there was no money left over after expenses to cover a $500.00 emergency room visit.  There are a couple of points that struck me. 1) This man was not complaining of his station in life; he felt he was personally responsible for his debts and had to prioritize his spending.  2) I do not know where he was laid off from, but even if a COBRA policy was available, who could afford anything on $250.00 per week of benefits.

     I wonder what Jason Altmire’s response would be to this man’s plight?  I do not know how congressman Altmire can sleep at night!  Here in NW Mercer County, Signature Aluminum (formerly Werners) has pulled out and there are SCORES of people I personally know that are in this same situation with this healthcare issue. 
     In the run up to the vote I had “heard” Jason Altmire was keeping a “low profile” but when the time came he would vote in favor of the bill.  Alas, this was not true.  As a former lobbyist for the health care industry, Jason Altmire, it appears, is like a “Zebra who can’t change his stripes”.

     This is just wrong in the United States of America!

Open Letter to Jason Altmire by Dr. Joe Talarico:

Dear Jason, 

I am extremely disappointed, to say the least, in your failure to support HR 3962, the most recent iteration of health care reform legislation that passed in the House of Representatives.  What is more distressing to me than your vote, however, is your explanation of that vote.  Your motivation in opposing this vital legislation is your concern for the cost of providing health care, quality improvement, tax increases.  You have apparently forgotten the reason that health care reform arose in the first place:  45 million Americans that forego adequate care, go bankrupt, and die because they are unfortunate enough to live in the only developed country in the world that does not recognize health care as a right.  

On a daily basis, I see patients in surgery that are undergoing critical surgeries, often too late to save their lives, because they were left behind by the health care system in “the greatest country in the world.”  In my own family, 4 of 5 of my adult children have been working and without health care for a significant amount of time since they entered the work force.  I also have many friends and acquaintances who, because of significant health problems, have found themselves without care and too young for Medicare, being one diagnosis away from financial ruin.  All are Americans who work hard, play by the rules, and are productive members of our society. 

While I understand the concern for costs, especially in the present environment of federal deficits without an end in sight, I am puzzled that this concern did not enter into the decision to provide unlimited financing for the poorly planned and fiscally disastrous “war on terror.”  The cost of providing every American with affordable health care is dwarfed by the cost of these imprudent initiatives.  

From a political perspective, I am sure that calls and letters from the tea baggers far surpassed those from your base.  However, it is hard to believe that, regardless of how you vote on any issue, any of them will ever become supporters.  They voted for Hart twice in the past, and will vote for any right winger that challenges you in the future.  In speaking with many of your supporters, it is clear to me that you cannot count on their unconditional support. 

In closing, it is very easy for those of us with so much to forget that, in America, playing by the rules no longer guarantees even the bare minimum in benefits.  Perhaps I am oversimplifying matters, but I honestly believe that the decision comes down to whether we want to live in a society that rules the world and leaves behind the most vulnerable, or a society that recognizes its appropriate place in the world (aggressively defending its interests, but recognizing that it cannot force its objectives on others in all circumstances), and cares for those with the greatest need.  I choose the latter; I sincerely hope you will consider my views and those of your core supporters as the health care debate progresses.


Joe Talarico

5 thoughts on “Employer-based health coverage is disappearing in PA”

  1. I think Joel Brown and Dr Talarico missed the main point on Congressman Altimire’s no vote on H.R. 3962. He voted no because 61% of the American people do not want this kind of health care or any Government run health care. He voted for what the people want which is why he was elected to that position.
    Bill Young

    1. I don’t know where you get your 61% from, Bill. but nearly everyone I know approves of Medicaid, which is a form of single payer even if limited to those over 65. I wish my partner could buy into it–she’s 56 and has a ‘pre-existing condition’ making it practically impossible for us to purchase private insurance. My Dad is a WW2 Navy vet and he swears by the excellent treatment he gets at the Butler VA, which is actually more than single payer, a form of socialized medicine for vets. So Medicare and the VA treat my family fine. It’s the private non-government run insurance companies that cause us grief. They only like to provide insurance for people that are healthy and wealthy, it seems.

  2. maybe this will explain why Congressman Altmire voted no a little better. This is from a doctor in Meadville Pa.

    Where is the protection against huge new taxes on all income classes and ages? These new taxes will crush the fragile economic recovery our nation is experiencing. (In a classic example of legislative dishonesty, the taxes start right away, but the “urgent” health care programs don’t start for four years. Thus, is the plan made budget neutral for the first 10 years. Then what? How stupid do they think we are?) The current recovery is already stalling and unemployment continues to rise because the fear of massive new taxes and employee costs makes employers afraid to hire, even if the need for workers is there.

    What about protection against huge Medicare cuts which will increase the out-of-pocket cost of health care for our senior citizens? Their fixed incomes are already doomed to decline in purchasing power by government mismanagement of the economy and money supply.

    Where are the protections against the rationing of health care, which is inevitable in a bill which seeks to place a cap on expenditures while doing nothing to reduce costs? Indeed, the “one size fits all” coverage mandates will actually result in huge increases in costs.

    What about protections against massive government deficits, which will be inevitable, once private insurance companies are driven into bankruptcy by taxpayer-subsidized government “competition?” The taxpayers, all of us, will then be left to foot the bill alone. These deficits, in amounts beyond comprehension and unprecedented in all of history, will doom our children and grandchildren to live in a European-style high tax, high unemployment, slow growth economy forever. Who will pay this debt back?

    What about protection from the scheduled reimbursement cuts to doctors and the lack of protection against frivolous lawsuits, both of which will drive more and more doctors, like me, from their practices and dissuade the best and brightest students from ever entering the medical profession? Who will be left to treat all the aging boomers now entering their “golden years?”

    Where is the protection from stagnating medical research, and what about all the miracle drugs which will either never be developed or never used, because of bureaucratic interference and limited budgets? Death rates due to cancer and other treatable diseases in Canada and Europe are much higher than in the U.S. because the best, and naturally more expensive, drugs are simply not offered. Of course, the long lines waiting for treatment will kill a bunch more.

    What about protection from the massive unfunded Medicaid mandates which the plan dumps on the already struggling states? This will drive every one of them to financial ruin and bankruptcy. The inevitable result is higher state taxes and even more lost jobs and slower growth. Several states (also known as the laboratories of democracy) have already tried programs similar to the proposed national plan. The results are clear and uniform. All of these states are seeing busted budgets, massive cost over-runs and they are all struggling to cut back access and raise prices. Why are the Democrats ignoring this experience?

    As you can see, Congresswoman Dahlkemper forgot to protect a few things.

    In yet another example of dishonesty, the Democrats claim that Republicans have no answers and are in favor of the status quo. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everyone agrees that there are problems with the current health care system. Far from being the “party of no,” the Republicans offer targeted fixes which will correct the problems of cost and availability while actually saving money and without destroying what is, in fact, the best health care system in the world.

    I was in Washington on Nov. 5, standing on the Capitol lawn with tens of thousands of other scared patriots. I could feel the fear, the frustration and, yes, the anger that drew these thousands of people, on very short notice, to Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s “emergency House call.” They were there to wake up an imperial government that was ignoring the message of the August town hall meetings and the lopsided poll numbers against this act of legislative malpractice. At the conclusion of this rousing demonstration, I then went to Congresswoman Dahlkemper’s office in the Cannon Building to exercise my constitutional right to “petition my government.” After a long wait to get through security, I was allowed to spend several minutes with an aide (the gentle-lady herself was “unavailable”) discussing the long list of fatal flaws in the House bill. Among the things I stressed to the nice lady was the fact that the good citizens of northwest Pennsylvania were suffering in this economic crisis, and that a job-killing tax increase was the last thing we needed. I was rewarded with a patronizing smile and a figurative pat on the head for my efforts.

    In passing this bill, Rep. Dahlkemper and her Democratic fellow travelers may be either delusional or dishonest; but, regardless, they are definitely dangerous. Luckily, getting this horrible bill through the Senate will be more difficult than it was in the House. However, we must not forget how Congresswoman Dahlkemper betrayed her oath, her constituents and her country in casting her vote in favor of this un-American, socialist monstrosity. We can make things better next November, if it isn’t already too late by then. In the meantime, make some noise!

    Laub, M.D., is a Meadville resident.

    Thank you for the good article. I have talked to Mrs. Dahlkemper’s office several times. You can never talk to her, only her aids. There was a poll on her web site about Health Care, and her aids reassured me she would vote the way the poll turned out. The poll was taken off her site 2 days before the vote. I was checking the results at least twice a day. The last time I saw results from the poll it was 67% against the bill. I am sure if asked Mrs. Dahlkemper will say that the results was different the day of the vote. The votes are there in the Senate to pass this reform. This HISTORIC president will get anything he wants. The way he is acting I think he wants to rule the world. The end of the United States of America is very near. Chip
    Posting date 11/20/2009 12:18 AM
    Posted by Chip

    Couldn’t have said it better myself…thank you Dr. Laub
    Dehlkemper isn’t “thinking”!
    Posting date 11/20/2009 2:17 AM
    Posted by Jack

    Great article – my sentiments exactly.
    Posting date 11/20/2009 5:49 AM
    Posted by Cheryl

    1. Altmire’s vote is not what’s important. What’s important is the role Altmire and the Blue Dog lobby played in shaping the bill. By lobbying against a broader public option administered by Medicare, Altmire pushed up the price of the healthcare bill. By lobbying for cuts in Medicare, Altmire endangers Medicare recipients. By lobbying for financial preference for big hospitals, Altmire undermines non-profit and community facilities.

      The letter from Laub, MD that Bill quotes is a rant having little to do with reality. If Laub really cared about cuts to Medicare he would support HR 676 and oppose the Blue Dogs undercutting Medicare in the healthcare bill markup. But he is only using Medicare as a straw man argument to confuse people.

  3. I don’t buy it, Bill. If the Doctor here and Altmire want to save money, HR 676 Medicare for All was the way to go. Replace 30 percent insurance company overhead with the 4 percent overhead that Medicare takes–more efficient, more care, less cost. But Altmire opposed it.

    Plus if they really want to save money, there’s two wars and a bloated defense budget in need of deficit hawks. I don’t see them rising to the occasion.

    If they want a new source of funds, let them support the Tobin tax on Wall St speculation to take back some of the trillions Bush and then Obama spent their way. I don’t see them getting behind this, either.

    The GOP claims they want reform, but they oppose every reform in practice.

    They just want to balance their budgets on the backs of low-income uninsured workers and less-than-healthy people. I’m fed up with it, and if the Dr’s Teabaggers had any sense, they would unite with real friends to oppose real enemies. But they don’t; they’d rather combine their rage with racist drivel vs Obama and his base.

    I’m not happy with this bill. It’s a giveaway to the insurance companies. But that’s what happens when good people are mislead into opposing the best solution, single payer. Now we have a choice between nothing, the status quo, and a profit-bloated alternative that’s only slightly better. We’ll have to go with it, and reform it later. If it fails, you’ll see NOTHING for at least a decade.

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