Where Is Your Heart?

We rallied outside Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ headquarters in Spokane on Monday, February 13th, to demand that she stand up to her peers and protect health care. We asked her WHERE IS YOUR HEART and tried to speak with her and tell her our stories of people who NEED their health care.

We prepared special presents for her — stuffed animals, each with a name and a story attached of an actual person who needs their health care. But, she was not there to hear from her constituents.

Rep. McMorris Rodgers and other Republican leaders are pushing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would leave thousands in her district without the quality, affordable health care they deserve. #SaveTheACA

Save the ACA Rally at Seattle’s Westlake Park

On Sunday, January 15, Washington CAN! members were out in force at Westlake Park rallying to not just save health care, but to expand it so everyone in Washington is covered. Our leader Roi-Martin Brown addressed the crowd along with the Main Street Alliance of Washington leader Makini Howell who told their own personal stories of how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has made a difference in their lives.

Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal led the rally with strong support from the crowd. She will be a fierce ally in Washington D.C. as the fight begins to #SaveTheACA.

We are facing the repeal of the ACA and potentially huge reductions in the support for Medicaid for low-income Washingtonians. We also face an attempt to privatize Medicare. Almost all of the progress made in the last decade in health care is in jeopardy. Washington CAN! is helping to lead the fight against these challenges. A bill is being drafted to protect Washington State against the possible destruction of huge portions of our health care system.

Yes on I-1433 for Paid Sick Leave

arianadavid2Back in 2011, when her son developed a rash on his skin, Jessica Cox wasn’t taking any chances. She took the 7 year-old to see a doctor, who diagnosed Roseola, or Sixth disease, a viral illness developed in childhood.

As a result, the school asked Cox to keep her son home for a week. And when she couldn’t find anyone to take care of him so she could go to her job at a grocery store in Renton, Cox inquired about using sick time.

She knew her boss was tough, but was still not prepared for the harsh response.

“She literally told me that I could not make up a disease because I didn’t want to come in to work,” said Cox, who lives in Kent.

“She said I couldn’t use my sick leave because it didn’t involve me and if I wanted to, I could take days off but not get paid for them.”

Sponsors of a measure to establish paid sick leave for workers in Washington, say such policies are far too common.

Initiative 1433, set for the November ballot, would not only increase the minimum wage over the next four years, but provide up to seven days of paid sick and safe leave for workers to care for themselves or a sick family member. (Safe leave allows victims, such as domestic violence survivors, to find a secure living situation without losing a paycheck.)

The provision would benefit more than 1 million workers in the state who currently lack sick leave.

Many are minimum-wage or other low-income workers who earn their living in the state’s burgeoning service and retail economy and can’t afford to take time off when they or a family member becomes ill.

It’s a two-fold problem, said Jack Sorenson, campaign spokesman for Raise Up Washington, the initiative sponsor.

“No one should have to choose between staying home when they are sick or losing income,” he said.

“Families shouldn’t be put in a positon of sending a child to school sick or not being able to afford groceries at the end of the week.”

Women make up the majority of low-wage earners in the state and are therefore the least likely to have paid sick and safe leave, according to the campaign.

At the same time, mothers are 10 times more likely than their male partners to stay home with a sick child.

There are no federal laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave for workers. Five states, including neighboring Oregon, have such laws in place. In Washington, the cities of Seattle, Tacoma, Bellingham and Spokane are among some 30 nationwide with similar laws.

Back in 2011, when her son became ill, Cox said she ended up taking more than a week off from work, losing over $400 in wages.

She and her co-workers, represented by United Food and Commercial Workers union, can access paid leave only after they have been sick for three consecutive days.

Sorenson said given that most people usually take no more than one or two sick days at a time, “if you can’t access it until the third day, that’s pretty much like not having it at all.”

Ariana Davis, who works at the same store, said that because of that policy, she’s gone to work sick on many occasions and ended up staying sick longer as a result.

“That’s unhealthy not just for co-workers, but for customers and communities,” she said.

Paid sick leave “is essential to making life better for every hard working family in America.”

Why Doris Wilson is an Advocate for Universal Health Care

doris-wilsonOver 32 years ago I bought my condo in the Kirkland Totem Lake neighborhood. One buying consideration was the condo’s proximity to Evergreen Hospital and Medical Center (now EvergreenHealth), which is located within a mile of my home. Soon after my purchase in 1984, Pacific Medical Centers (PacMed) opened a Totem Lake clinic. I received almost all of my health care needs at one or the other of these two facilities, except for some specialties. When I retired from the University of Washington in 1993 to care for ailing parents, I continued to receive primary care at PacMed, my HMO, under the Secure Horizons option of my health plan, UnitedHealth.

As you may be aware, state retirees’ benefits are managed by the Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB), and insurance premiums are deducted from my state pension.

Everything worked fine for me until PEBB ended its contract with Secure Horizons. I had to choose another health plan, and the only one which would offer Medicare Advantage coverage was Group Health Cooperative. So I now get my health care at Group Health facilities. It’s a good organization, and I’m getting good care… but eight miles from home at the Bellevue main facility and six miles away at the Redmond clinic, instead of next-door.

However, just 2-1/2 months under the new arrangement (but before I was established with a primary care doctor), I fell at home and injured my thigh. In great pain, it was a struggle for me to reach a phone to call 9-1-1 for help and a neighbor with an extra key for my condo to let the medics in. They asked me who my insurer was, and put me on a stretcher and into the medic van. I had to go eight miles into Bellevue to Urgent Care at Group Health, rather than next-door to EvergreenHealth. The medics dropped me off, and I had to wait for X-rays. By the time the X-ray was read, indicating no bone fractures, and I could be discharged, I had been given narcotics for my pain and could not take a taxi home alone. I was unable to reach my daughter in Seattle by phone, and my 86-year-old neighbor didn’t drive after dark, so I had no way to get home. Never mind that I could not manage the entryway stairs without assistance! My condition did not make it possible for me to stay overnight in the hospital. It took some pleading with the Urgent Care staff, but finally they allowed me to sleep there until morning when my neighbor could drive me home. I was trapped at home for three weeks, while (very competent) Group Health aides helped me to manage with showering and restoring my ability to walk somewhat normally, including up and down stairs.

With universal, single-payer health care, I could simply have been taken to the nearest emergency room at EvergreenHealth. My neighbor could have driven one mile after dark to pick me up.

When insurers make our health care decisions for us–where to get care and from whom–unnecessary cost and effort can be incurred.

So much for my careful consideration of choosing a new home in the vicinity of a hospital and thriving medical community! And, yes, I continue to pay real estate taxes which support EvergreenHealth’s expansion, and I vote for its management and development, rather than for GroupHealth, since it is in my hospital district. Go figure!

Surprise Billing

marketplace-billingEvery health insurance company is required to develop a network of providers so that its customers have access to doctors, clinics, and hospitals. The Affordable Care Act has expanded insurance enrollment for many previously uninsured populations. Washington CAN has been working with partner communities, the Health Benefits Exchange, and the Insurance Commissioner to improve the rules governing how the provider networks are serving the needs of the newly insured.

We face two major challenges: First, are the providers close enough to the patients to permit them to get to the doctor or hospital when they need to? Second, are the networks sufficiently diverse to provide adequate language access and cultural sensitivity to their new insurance customers?

Frequently, access is a matter of proximity – how long does it take and what does it cost to get to the doctor? Many of the new insurance customers live in areas where doctors have not traditionally located their practices. Can low-income people find their way to a doctor or hospital located in another part of their community or does distance provide a significant barrier?

Another issue we are advocating on is, if a low-income person can find a way to the doctor or hospital, will providers be able to communicate with them in their primary language? Will providers be sensitive to cultural differences? Will there be appropriate outreach to these communities so as to improve their participation in the health care system?

Both the Insurance Commissioner and the Health Benefits Exchange are reviewing these issues. The outcome of debates are uncertain, particularly given that the insurance industry is pioneering what they call “skinny networks” – networks that include fewer, rather than more, providers.