The state of our region
JAN 27, 2018 – Just ahead of the State of the Union speech President Donald Trump gives Tuesday, Post-Gazette reporters have gathered information on the state of Western Pennsylvania and what people involved in politics, government, business, religious life, health care and environmental issues see in the months ahead.
A year after the newly inaugurated president promised quick repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and despite efforts to replace Obamacare over the ensuing 12 months, the program is quite alive, with more than 8 million Americans signed up for 2018 plans including nearly 400,000 Pennsylvanians.
Locally, both UPMC Health Plan and Highmark say they remain committed to offering ACA plans locally, even as one expands and the other steps back. In 2017, UPMC offered ACA policies in all 29 Western Pennsylvania counties, including one of the lowest-cost Silver plans in the U.S., while Highmark withdrew from 17 of the 29 counties after suffering massive losses in the marketplace’s first years.
Still waiting for Congress to act, Pennsylvania community health centers begin cutbacks
For the current year, the Consumer Health Coalition on the North Side reports helping 1,248 people — including 784 who qualify for medical assistance — signed up for 2018 ACA plans, which “overshot our goals significantly,” said executive director Lou Ann Jeremko.
But attacks on the ACA nationally, such as eliminating the tax penalty in 2019 on those who do not obtain insurance, leaves the future stability of the marketplace still in question.
While corporations stand to reap the biggest windfall from the Republican tax overhaul, average workers here and across the country are likely to see a slight increase in pay due to an adjustment in the federal income tax withholding tables.
Higher income workers will benefit more than lower income workers when the tax savings are considered dollar for dollar, although it is difficult to say exactly how much more because different taxpayers have different exemptions that contribute to the bottom line.
But in general, a worker earning about $2,000 a month may see a pay increase of about $10, whereas a taxpayer earning $200,000 a year could see a benefit of a couple thousand dollars.
With the top tax rate for corporations slashed from 35 percent to 21 percent, many corporations see an opportunity to increase employee salaries, said Alex Kindler, a partner at H2R CPA in Green Tree. “We’ve had tax cuts before, but this is the first time I’ve had so many corporate clients say they will pass the savings on by increasing pay to workers.”
Advocates for the poor fear the president and congressional Republicans could enact major cuts to safety-net programs such as Medicaid, which provides health insurance for low-income and disabled people, or the food stamp program.
They also fear cuts to funds for affordable housing, money for heating assistance, legal help for the poor, or Supplemental Security Income, a program for people with disabilities.
“We are generally concerned that another year will go by without any real policies to address poverty and hunger,” said Emily Cleath, a spokeswoman for Pittsburgh anti-hunger advocacy group Just Harvest. “These should include passing HR 1276 so that SNAP [food stamps] benefit amounts better reflect the actual cost of a healthy diet, raising the federal minimum wage, mandating paid Family and Medical Leave, addressing the critical shortage of affordable housing, and funding universal high-quality childcare and preK. Imagine how great a nation we would be if we could provide those things. Instead, this administration and Republican leaders in Congress seem more interested in perpetuating the War on the Poor.” Continue reading What’s Changed in Western Pa after Trump’s First Year?