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Defending the Affordable Care Act all the way to the Supreme Court

Despite the millions of Americans who now have access to affordable, quality care thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), opponents of the health care law continue in vain to try and dismantle it.

The latest of these attacks comes in the form of King vs. Burwell, a case being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the IRS regulations that allow those applying for the ACA to receive subsidies as outlined by the law and accepted by those legislators who passed it in 2010.

Michelle Boyle, speaking out for access to healthcare at a rally in 2013, and her daughter, who holds a picture of her grandmother. Michelle Boyle's mother-in-law passed away from a treatable disease because she did not have access to affordable, preventative care.

Michelle Boyle, speaking out for access to healthcare at a rally in 2013, and her daughter, who holds a picture of her grandmother. Michelle Boyle’s mother-in-law passed away from a treatable disease because she did not have access to affordable, preventative care.

Here in Pennsylvania, we fought to help implement that law and get uninsured Pennsylvanians access to the healthcare coverage they so desperately needed. Now that the law is working for so many, we won’t sit idly by and let these unfounded and frivolous attacks go unanswered.

Michelle Boyle, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania member and RN at Allegheny General Hospital, has added her name to an amicus brief being filed in the case. The brief defends the subsidies and is informed by Michelle’s testimony as a healthcare provider and the testimony of other like-minded professionals.

Michelle was an early supporter of the ACA, learning firsthand the importance of having access to healthcare.

Michelle’s mother-in-law, Hannah Jewel Brown, lost her job and with it, her healthcare. She died of treatable chronic conditions at the age of 58, because she didn’t have access to basic care.

“She never lived long enough to play with her grandchildren,” said Michelle. “Our daughters hold her picture instead of her hand.”

It is this profound loss and her experience as a frontline caregiver that drives Michelle’s passion for making sure others have access to care.

“Before the Affordable Care Act passed, I saw patients and families praying at the bedside wondering if this was the time they may lose their house to medical bills,” Michelle said. “My mother-in-law didn’t receive treatment because there were no affordable options for her.”

“I have included my name on this amicus because I want other people to have access to affordable health care,” said Michelle. “So they can live to see their grandchildren.”

Read more about Michelle’s story here.


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Having healthcare means I can finally sleep easier at night

Before coming to Philadelphia, Ayoka Dyani-Ojo lived in Florida and South Carolina where it was very hard to access affordable health insurance. As a result, she was Ayoka Dyani-Ojouninsured on and off for about 10 years.

Being uninsured has been a scary thing for Ayoka. Not being able to go to the doctor made it hard to do the work she is so passionate about – providing home care to those who need it.

With her chronic back pain, basic tasks like using the bathroom or going to the store proved to be a challenge. She often had to go to work in pain because she could not afford to see a doctor.

For the last four and a half years, Ayoka has been working for Liberty Resources in Philadelphia and is a member of the United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania (UHWP).*

UHWP has been working hard over the last two months to connect home care workers with options to enroll for healthcare under the new Healthy PA plan. Although this plan is not perfect, it brings us one step closer to real Medicaid Expansion in Pennsylvania.

In December, after years of being uninsured, Ayoka was able to sign up for healthcare coverage during an enrollment meeting.

A month after enrolling, Ayoka says having healthcare has removed a lot of stress. Now she does not have to worry about whether or not she or her husband can go to the doctor if they get sick. She is able to sleep a lot easier and for that she is grateful.


*The United Home Care Workers of Pennsylvania is a joint affiliate of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania and AFSCME.





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Help Make REAL Medicaid Expansion in PA a Reality!

Want to make quality, affordable healthcare available to hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians and bring millions of dollars in funding to local hospitals?

We do too.

You can help by joining healthcare professionals like us make a public stand for REAL Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania in 2015. It’s as easy as 1,2,3…

1. Make a Sign

Write out your support for Medicaid expansion in PA and use the hashtag #MA4PA in your sign. You can even make it your New Year’s Resolution!

2. Take a Picture

Take a selfie by yourself or with a group of friends holding your sign.

3. Post It

Post your selfie to your favorite social media site OR email it to Make sure you use #MA4PA so we can find you, like you and share your post!

We want our elected leaders to see just how important Medicaid expansion is to real Pennsylvanians. Make your voice heard and post a picture today.

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Why I’m Standing with Tom Wolf

My name is Aretha Spady. I am a home care worker from north Philadelphia and on Friday, October 3rd, Tom Wolf walked a day in my shoes.

And let me tell you, he wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and do everything I asked. He made the bed, folded laundry, did the dishes and SEUI_TomWolf_031
swept the floors to help take care of Mr. Leroy, my consumer. Even more importantly, he listened to us as we shared our ideas for making the home care system better.

And there is a lot of room for improvement. Right now I make $10.50 an hour working 40 hours a week. I still can’t make ends meet and I live paycheck to paycheck. My job does not provide healthcare, sick days, or vacation. In fact, the last time I went on vacation was when I was a child.

Millions of Pennsylvania seniors and people with disabilities depend on having reliable, quality care and the majority want to receive it in their homes. Tom Wolf gets that. That’s why he supports making sure home and community-based services get the funding it needs to provide the best care.  Governor Corbett, on the other hand, wants to cut Medicaid benefits for over million Pennsylvanians who rely on it to stay healthy.

For me, the choice is easy. I truly believe Tom Wolf is going to do what’s right by home care workers, seniors and people with disabilities. That’s why I am supporting him on November 4 and even after to make sure Pennsylvania has a health care system we can all be proud of.SEUI_TomWolf_011


Aretha Spady,

Home Care Attendant, Philadelphia

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Stanley Dawson is Fighting to Save His City

“Tom Corbett has devastated Philadelphia. His budget cuts, especially to the city’s schools, arestanley 1 awful.  Our kids need a good education and they deserve a lot better than they’re getting from Tom Corbett,” Stanley said. “It’s time for a change.” 

The SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania member is doing his best to make that change happen.  Stanley, who works at a Philadelphia area nursing home, is spending nearly two months to help elect Tom Wolf as the next Governor of Pennsylvania. He’s one of more than 50 SEIU members taking a leave from work to hit the streets in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Allentown and to educate voters and build support for Tom Wolf for governor.

For Stanley, this race comes down to one simple, but extremely important belief. Fairness.

“Tom Corbett has proven over the last four years that all he cares about is the big corporations, like the Marcellus Shale companies. He gives them tax breaks and the rest of us have to pay for it,” Stanley said during a recent canvass in North Philadelphia.

 “But Tom Wolf is a different story.  Tom Wolf is for the working people and the middle class in this state.  He’ll stand with us, not the big guys.”

Stanley knows that Tom Wolf will return the $1 billion that Tom Corbett slashed from public schools which has forced massive cutbacks in classrooms around the state. In Philadelphia, Corbett’s funding cuts are so severe the crisis nearly prevented the schools from opening on time.

Stanley also likes that Tom Wolf has built a successful business in York County with American-made products. And best of all, Wolf treats his workers fairly with good wages and benefits. And he returns 20 to 30 percent of the company’s profits back to the workers.

Filled with that motivation, Stanley plans to take great pride with every knock and every conversation he has with voters over the next several weeks. He knows it’s a great opportunity to educate people about Tom Wolf and the fight for fairness.

 “I know that without a doubt I’m making a difference by canvassing and talking with voters.  There are people do not know anything about the upcoming governor’s race. They are not aware of what is going on. It makes me feel good when I can knock on the door, talk to someone and educate them so they know to go to the polls on November 4th and vote for Tom Wolf.”

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Corbett’s DOH Cares More for Health of Business Than the Health of PA Citizens

After two retired SEIU Healthcare PA members blew the whistle on the Corbett Administration’s Department of Health and its policy of silencing public healthcare workers on the issue of fracking, hundreds of healthcare professionals across the state are now standing up to demand that action be taken and that the administration be investigated for failing to put public health before gas industry concerns.

State nurses with SEIU Healthcare PA are on the front lines, fighting for the health of all Pennsylvanians.

State nurses with SEIU Healthcare PA are on the front lines, fighting for the health of all Pennsylvanians.

According to the former state nurses, community health workers were told not to return calls from residents with health concerns related to fracking or the gas industry.

“There was a list of buzzwords we had gotten,” former state nurse Tammi Stuck told NPR. “There were some obvious ones like fracking, gas, soil contamination. There were probably 15 to 20 words and short phrases that were on this list. If anybody from the public called in and that was part of the conversation, we were not allowed to talk to them.”

Health workers were instructed to simply take down contact info and refer them to a supervisor. There was never any indication that these citizens were called back.

Julie Becker, a professor at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, recently spoke at the Capitol on behalf of over 400 nurses, doctors, and other health professionals who have issued a statement calling for action on the issue.

“The role of the Pennsylvania Department of Health is to ‘prevent injury and disease,’ and to ‘lead the development of sound health policy and planning.’ Yet when it comes to fracking, the DOH has done little to prevent exposure or lead policy development,” said Becker, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

While the DOH scrambles to address the issue, we continue to attack the root cause of the problem — a governor and an administration that cares more for the concerns of big business and Gov. Corbett’s corporate cronies than for the health and well-being of hard working Pennsylvanians.

What’s more, Pennsylvania already had a system in place for tracking public health risks, crisis and disease — our state health centers. Those are the same health centers that Corbett tried to close last year, a move that would put 73 nurses out of work and leave many communities without access to state health services. We sued the Corbett Administration and took the case all the way to the state Supreme Court where we won an injunction against the closings.

Years of bad decisions, cuts to education and services, attacks on our civil rights, program mismanagement, and money misspent on friends of the administration have left Pennsylvania crying out for a new beginning, a fresh start. That is why we are making sure that every citizen who is eligible is registered to vote this election season and that they know there is a candidate who can offer us that fresh start — Tom Wolf.

Have you or your family been affected by fracking in your community? Are you interested in becoming active in the fight for Pennsylvania’s health? Click on this link and tell us who you are!

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Corbett’s New Budget Shortchanges PA

On Thursday, July 10, 2014, Governor Corbett signed a $29.1 billion state budget that demonstrates yet another example of his failed leadership abilities. Not only does his budget not repair the damage caused by three years of devastating cuts to education and community services, it doles out another round of corporate tax giveaways, blocks efforts to make Marcellus Shale drillers pay their fair share and fails to expand Medicaid.

What’s more, Corbett’s budget does nothing to properly address the $1.7 billion deficit he created with bad choices, using accounting gimmicks and one-time tricks to further kick the can down the road and make the situation worse next year.

Here is an overview of Corbett’s Bad Budget:

MEDICAID EXPANSION – For the second straight year, Gov. Corbett has refused to expand Expand Medicaid NowMedicaid that would provide nearly $600 million in immediate budget savings, allow 500,000 hardworking people access to healthcare and begin to create 35,000 new jobs to help the state get back on track.

  • In contrast, the governor’s “Healthy PA” plan is insufficient to provide the healthcare that working Pennsylvanians need, cuts benefits for current Medicaid benefiaries and may not even be approved by the federal government.

SCHOOL FUNDING: This budget fails to undo the devastation of Corbett’s $1 billion cuts to our school system and simply passes the buck to local communities.

  • There is no increase in basic education funding – the main source of funding for schools. In fact, total school funding is still less than in 2008 before the stimulus funding. The $159 million in new funding for some programs comes with strings attached and won’t help to avoid more property tax hikes.[1]
  • Because of Corbett’s choices, property taxes have gone up and 20,000 teachers and staff have been laid off, classrooms are overcrowded, and programs like art, music and music have been eliminated. [2] 

HIGHER EDUCATION:  Corbett continues to place the dream of a college degree out of reach for many students and parents by making tuition prices skyrocket and forcing students to shoulder thousands in burdensome loan debt.

  • This is the third straight year Governor Corbett has offered Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities zero funding relief. In 2011, higher education funding was slashed nearly 20 percent, and has been flat-funded since, forcing Pennsylvania state colleges to hike tuition and fees. PA college students are now graduating with an average of nearly $30,000 in debt – the 2nd highest in the country.[3]

MARCELLUS SHALEDespite strong support to make drillers pay their fair share, Corbett once again let Pennsylvania’s oil and gas companies off the hook, costing the taxpayers nearly half-a-billion-dollars that could have been invested in schools and job creation.

  • Because of Tom Corbett, Pennsylvania is the only major gas producing state without a severance tax and the governor’s impact fee is embarrassingly low at 1.3%. That’s much less than we’re all paying in state income taxes.[4]  It’s time to make Exxon, Shell and other companies pay their fair share on the amount of natural gas they take from Pennsylvania.

 MORE CORPORATE TAX BREAKS – Even though he’s already handed out nearly $2 billion in corporate tax breaks since taking office, Gov. Corbett has once again sided with corporate special interests, giving another round of business tax breaks while failing to support school students, seniors and taxpayers. 

  • Despite a huge $1.7 billion deficit and the need to restore funding for schools and community programs, the budget gives corporations a huge tax cut by continuing to phase out the Capital Stock and Franchise Tax and failing to close the Delaware Tax Loophole, which allows wealthy corporations to avoid paying their fair share in taxes.




[1] House Democratic Budget Briefing, 2014/15 Budget at-a-glance (HB 2328, PN 3895)

[2] Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Corbett’s budget falls short on education, health care and taxes, Feb. 8, 2014

[3] Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2012 grads have highest-ever student debt, December 26, 2013

[4] Allentown Morning Call, A tax on fracking would have raised millions, February 22, 2014

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Mt. Nittany RN Advocates for Patients, Medicaid Expansion at White House Summit

LINDA SOLANO_Mt NittanyI was honored to represent SEIU and join President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Dr. Jill Biden, policymakers, advocates, business leaders, and ordinary citizens to discuss policy solutions that can make a real difference in the lives of working families at the Working Families Summit at the White House [on June 23]. I emphasized how important healthcare policy — in particular the full implementation of the healthcare law, including the expansion of Medicaid — is to families.

As a nurse, I shared experiences from my 26 years in the profession. I have seen what a difference access to quality, affordable healthcare makes and I know what a difference the Affordable Care Act makes in the lives of Pennsylvanians. While I am incredibly disappointed that our governor and legislature did not accept the federal funds set aside to provide healthcare to hard-working families, I believe my frustration is shared by many — we are tired of people elected to represent us playing politics with our health.

At [the June 23] summit, I also heard people discuss the challenges of feeling powerless in the workplace — dealing with no paid sick leave, lower take home pay or an inability to advocate for safer working conditions for fear of losing their job. This discussion reinforced for me how important it is to be a part of 85,000 nurses represented by SEIU. I know what a difference having an advocate who will fight for safe working conditions, fair compensation and continued professional development has made for my colleagues and me.

There is a lot of work to be done too many working Americans — both women and men — are living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make ends meet and respond to the competing demands of work and family. For me the conversations today were a part of an important discussion that I will take back home and continue to have with leaders in my community.

Would you like to be more involved in advocating for your patients and your community? Contact Nurse Alliance of PA Director Deb Bonn at to ask about opportunities.
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US Labor Secretary Perez Recognizes AGH Nurses’ Quality Improvement Work

As our healthcare system continues to shift toward an emphasis on quality over quantity of care, our members are gaining national recognition in their work to find new and innovative ways to improve patient care and satisfaction while reducing costs.  On Wednesday, June 11, US Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez traveled to Pittsburgh to meet with frontline nurses at Allegheny General Hospital to recognize their collaborative work with hospital administrators as a national model of innovation.

“This hospital, this health system, has rejected Secretary Perez. Cathy Stoddartthat false choice that you either take care of your bottom line or you take care of your workers or you take care of your patients,” said Secretary Perez during his AGH visit, “You can do all of those, and you have demonstrated it here.”

This unique relationship between nurses and management traces back to 2003 when AGH RNs established unit-based Patient Care Committees and a hospital-wide Nurse Collaboration Council that allowed nurses and management avenues to think through issues together to make the hospital run more smoothly.  Through these, nurses and management launched a variety of initiatives to improve quality and contain costs.

During Secretary’s Perez’s visit, Chapter president Cathy Stoddart, Kidney, Liver and Gyne-Oncology nurse, spoke about the Nurse Collaboration Council’s  implementation of a holistic hospital-wide program in 2011 to improve nurse training opportunities, change the way caregivers interact with patients and streamline processes to increase efficiency (made possible by a grant from the Department of Labor).

One such application of this program is the Hearts of Gold initiative that trained nurses on how to increase overall patient satisfaction. Within months of implementing this approach, hospital Press Ganey scores (which measure patient satisfaction) soared to 94%, the highest score ever recorded on that unit. Another example focused on standardizing patient assignment sheets which has help streamline patient care delivery, alleviate nurse frustration and significantly lower costs associated with overtime.

“One of the best way to change the culture at AGH is to involve as many nurses as possible in studying a process, seeing its successes and flaws and leading the way to help fix it.”

She went on to attribute nurses’ meaningful involvement to having a strong union. “Our work has been made possible because we as union nurses have the ability to have a significant voice on the job and the ability to foster strong, collaborative relationships with hospital administrators through our union. With strong partners in AGH, Allegheny Health Network, and Highmark – we are improving the lives of Pittsburgh patients and the work lives of frontline caregivers.”

Check out an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about this important visit.



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The Fight for $15 is Going Global

Across the nation, a growing number of fast food workers are joining the fight to demand the right to organize and be paid a $15 an hour minimum wage. On May 15, that struggle went worldwide.

On that day, fast food workers in Pennsylvania joined workers in 250 cities in 33 different nations to stand up and demand that their hard work in building what is a multi-billion dollar global industry be recognized with a living wage. Even fast food workers in countries’ like Denmark, who actually pay their workers a decent wage and benefits, joined the fight, asking why their brothers and sisters in other First World countries are working full time but living in poverty.

While fast food companies’ revenue and profit continue to grow (McDonald’s recorded more than $28 billion in revenue for 2013), the median pay for fast food workers continues to stagnate at just over $9 an hour. That comes to a little more than $18,000 a year, significantly lower than the poverty line. What’s more, raising the wage for fast food workers would make a negligible impact on the industry’s bottom line. While anti-worker groups claim that fast food prices will sky-rocket, in reality, workers’ wages has little to do with the cost of the food they sell. As a Forbes contributor pointed out:

“… a doubling of, or a halving of, or any other change in, the wages of McDonald’s workers will have absolutely no effect whatsoever on the price of a Big Mac or the dollar menu. For prices are not set by the cost of production of something, but by the supply and demand for that item.”

Raising the wage would, however, have a tremendous impact on our economy and the budget. The fast food industry’s insistence on keeping its workers’ wages down costs the American taxpayers $7 billion a year in public assistance. A living wage for fast food workers would also mean tremendous gains to the economy and to tax revenue.

Mary Kay Henry at FFS

SEIU President Mary Kay Henry joins fast food workers in protest at McDonald’s headquarters.

On May 21, hundreds of protestors brought the fight right to the doorsteps of one of giants of the industry, descending on the suburban-Chicago headquarters of McDonald’s  in advance of its annual shareholders’ meeting. More than 100 protesters were arrested, including SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.

“It’s time for the McDonald’s Corporation… to stop pretending that it can’t boost pay for the people who make and serve their food,” Henry said.

We will continue to support these and all workers in the struggle to organize and to make a living wage. You can learn more about the fast food workers fight for $15 here.

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Veteran Nurse Implores Uninsured to Sign Up for Coverage Under the ACA

For the last several years, I was in a very dark place. After having worked in nursing for 20 years, I found myself unemployed, uninsured, and with a chronic health condition.

Rose Yanko implores uninsured Pennsylvanians to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. (

Rose Yanko implores uninsured Pennsylvanians to sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. (

I was not able to afford health insurance at all, even if I found a company who would cover me with a preexisting condition. The treatments I needed were much too expensive to pay for out of pocket. My doctor told me that my best bet might be to move to a city with a university hospital and sign up for experimental treatments.  I couldn’t believe that was my option — to move away from my family and loved ones and be used as a guinea pig.

So for four years, I didn’t go to the doctor and I skipped biopsies. I had no idea if I was healthy, if I had cancer, if I was getting sicker. I lived with that constant fear every day.

When I heard about the Affordable Care Act (ACA), I decided to call their toll free number. I was able to get Geisinger insurance with a low deductible that will cover my treatments and prescriptions (with a low copay) for only $30 per month. When I heard that, I felt a huge weight being lifted off me — a weight I didn’t even realize I was carrying, because I had become so numb to the despair.

When I tell people about my new insurance, I’m surprised how much misinformation there is. A lot of people think that ACA means the government will give you healthcare, but that’s not true at all. ACA lets you buy private health insurance and provides subsidies to help cover the cost, if you qualify.

My hope is for everyone who lacks health insurance to call 1-800-318-2596 or visit It has literally changed my life — and given me a chance at a long healthy life. No one should live with the uncertainty and fear that goes along with not being able to afford health care.

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25% of Americans Struggling to Pay Medical Bills

1 in 4 Struggling With Medical Debt

We’re four months into enrollment in the health exchanges and at least 7.7 million Americans have applied for coverage.

That’s good news for the one in four Americans that are struggling with medical bills. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey reported this statistic last week. It is a powerful reminder why we set out to reform health care in the first place.

Faced with mounting medical bills, people have to tap into savings, or the equity in their homes to stay afloat, and that’s if they’re lucky enough to have any savings. Even still, many times it’s not enough.

The crushing cost of care and medical debt has become the leading reason why Americans declare personal bankruptcy. The CDC survey also confirmed that 1 in 10 Americans can’t pay their medical bills at all.

Cathy Stoddart, a nurse and one of our Executive Board members, can tell you all about this from first hand experience. In a blog post last year, Cathy talked about how her family had to file for bankruptcy after years of working to pay off medical bills for her son’s heart surgery.

“As a mother and a nurse, my child not having the care he needed was not an option. So we ended up putting his heart catheterizations, echo cardiograms and doctors’ visits on our credit cards.

“We always paid what we could, but those charges and mounting medical bills after years and years became more than we could ever repay in several lifetimes; so we had to file bankruptcy,” said Stoddart.

Talking head TV pundits are eager to point out every bump in the rollout of Affordable Care Act, but the truth is that 7.7 million people are on their way to having insurance that could not only save their life, but also keep them from the brink of bankruptcy. That is why we need Obamacare, and that is why if you haven’t enrolled already, you should do it right now.

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Grieving Fiance Asks Governor Corbett, “How Many More People Have to Die Before Fixing the Problem?”

Governor Corbett had a rare run-in yesterday with a man who was tragically affected by the Governor’s refusal to accept Medicaid Expansion. The Governor has been known to avoid the people most affected by his policies.

Outside the doors to a $1,000 a plate Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Governor Corbett met with Scot Rosenzweig, a man from Allentown whose uninsured fiancé recently passed away from untreated health conditions.

“If she had access to good, preventative healthcare services when she needed it, her life would have been saved,” said Rosenzweig.

In the encounter, Mr. Rosenzweig gave the Governor an enlarged photo of his fiancé and encouraged him to expand Medicaid. Governor Corbett said that he can’t both expand Medicaid and work on fixing problems he sees with the system, but he assured Mr. Rosenzweig that “I believe we will have [Healthy PA] by the end of the year.”

Governor Corbett’s proposed alternative plan to Medicaid expansion -“Healthy PA” – will cut existing Medicaid coverage for seniors, people with disabilities and pregnant women while imposing new and unnecessary government mandates.  Additionally, if a version of the long-delayed plan is approved by federal officials expanded coverage will not take effect until 2015, leaving 400,000 people to be denied insurance and forced to risk their health for at least a year.

That’s too little, too late for Scot who asked the Governor, “How many people have to die before we fix the problem?”

“Governor Corbett needs to see and hear the consequences of his decision to delay Medicaid Expansion for hundreds of thousands of uninsured people all across the state. We are not just talking about facts and figures; real people’s lives are at stake,” said Rosenzweig in a media statement.

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We Are Standing Up for Commonsense Immigration Reform

This year, we joined in actions around the state advocating for commonsense immigration reform that offered a path to citizenship for the more than 11 million people living in America right now who are yearning to realize their own “American Dream.”

Immigration reform is an issue close to us. We see first-hand the struggles of our coworkers who have had to try and navigate the flawed and cruel system currently in place. A system that divides families and keeps people in limbo for decades.

Marie Youyoute, a CNA at Golden Living Center in Rosemont, is one of those people. Her mother left Haiti to work in America when Marie was very young and was separated from her family for 20 years. Hear Marie’s story in our video.

This summer, an immigration reform bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support, but the measure has stalled in the House. On November 12th, a handful of activists, including former SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Eliseo Medina, occupied the Mall of America and fasted for 31 days  in an effort to move members of Congress to act on immigration reform. Their story was followed by major news media outlets and recorded on their own website,

The President and the First Lady visit Eliseo Medina (to the right of President Obama) and the rest of the Fast for Families fasters on the National Mall.

The President and the First Lady visit Eliseo Medina (to the right of President Obama) and the rest of the Fast for Families fasters on the National Mall.

The fasters were visited by political and social leaders, members of congress and even President Obama and the First Lady. In a Nov. 25th speech, President Obama mentioned the fasters and the need for immigration reform.

“Right now, I’m seeing brave advocates who have been fasting for two weeks in the shadow of the Capitol, sacrificing themselves to get Congress to act,” he said. “I want to say to Eliseo Medina, my friend from SEIU, and the other fasters who are there as we speak, I want them to know — we hear you. We’re with you. The whole country hears you.”

On Thursday, Dec. 12th, Congress went on recess without having addressed immigration reform. On Friday, the fasters concluded their action, but implored our leaders and all of America to continue efforts to reform our broken immigration system.

“I feel very fortunate that we touched the hearts of America,” Eliseo Medina said. “I think we managed to unify all sectors of our community. Even though Congress left town without doing comprehensive immigration reform, I think there is no doubt that they have to do something now. When they come back in January, they will have to … continue the act of creating a just immigration system.”

In 2014, we will take up the mantle of immigration reform and continue to push our leaders in Washington to enact this much-needed reform and bring 11 million people struggling in the margins of our society into the full embrace of citizenship.

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We’re Standing with UPMC Workers

Workers at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) have been facing one of the most aggressive anti-union campaigns that we’ve seen in recent history. But the strength of workers who are speaking out has been moving the entire city of Pittsburgh to action. During the last few months, UPMC workers have had elected officials, gubernatorial candidates, labor and community leaders and residents from all parts of the city joining them in their efforts to stand up to UPMC. Lending their voices, experiences and photos to an effort to bring attention to what’s going on for workers inside UPMC’s work sites across the region, billboards, bus shelters and online ads appealed to people to “Stand up to UPMC” with workers. And they did.

Pittsburgh United issued a report that brought to light the low standards that UPMC is creating, and how it’s holding back the entire economy and shrinking rather than strengthening the middle class.

UPMC Worker Christoria Hughes

UPMC Worker Christoria Hughes standing up to the hospital giant that’s been bullying her coworkers and her city.

On Labor Day, the parade of thousands led with a “Stand with UPMC workers” banner, held by Central Labor Council President Jack Shea, UPMC workers Ron Oakes and Jim Staus.  Dozens of other unions carried placards, and standards to stand in solidarity with the workers of UPMC.

Then, likely Democratic nominee for Mayor Bill Peduto shared his support with a room full of UPMC workers, and a host of gubernatorial candidates joined in!

Only one week later, on Saturday September 7th, something extraordinary happened in Pittsburgh. Hundreds of people came together to stand up to UPMC and demand that the healthcare giant stop bullying the workers, patients, and taxpayers of Pittsburgh.

Faith and labor leaders, elected officials, UPMC workers, bus riders, teachers, patients, taxpayers and students demonstrated their unity and resolve when they peacefully and silently sat down as one on Fifth Avenue right in front of UPMC’s flagship hospital.

Just last week, after weeks and weeks of investigation, Region 6 of the National Labor Relations Board — the federal agency charged with protecting worker’ rights — issued a second historic complaint in a year against our city’s largest employer, UPMC. The complaint alleges 47 instances of harassment, intimidation, discrimination and illegal firings, including:

  • Firing workers for their union activity — including Ron Oakes, who was fired for a second time just three weeks after being reinstated as part of UPMC’s settlement of the first complaint.
  • Calling the police on and threatening to arrest workers who were talking about the union while at lunch.
  • Retaliating against workers who testified at the Labor Board. ​

As a response to the new NLRB complaint the Pittsburgh City Council unanimously passed a Will of Council in support of the workers of UPMC and called on UPMC to put an end to its anti-union campaign.

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Healthcare #ProTip: More Nurses = Fewer Readmissions

RN-Group-Happy-350pxThe Federal Government recently started to penalize hospitals for discharged patients that end up right back in the hospital within 30 days. The Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) cuts Medicare reimbursements to hospitals up to 1% for high readmission rates. Last year, those reduced payments totaled about $280 million.

A new study out from the University of Pennsylvania gives hospitals clear guidance on how to reduce readmissions though: increase registered nurse staffing.

The study published in Health Affairs this month compared 1,413 pairs of hospitals and found that facilities that had higher levels of registered nurse staffing were 25% less likely to have a readmission penalty. In fact, every additional hour of care provided by registered nurses per patient day reduced odds of a penalty by 10%.

More nurses means fewer readmissions. Seems obvious doesn’t it? Nurses are typically the first ones to notice when a patient might be developing a problem with their treatment. They’re also the main source of education for patients and families during discharge. A nurse with too many patients is too busy being pulled in different directions to make sure patients are truly ready to go home.

It turns out that nurse staff levels also increase a number of other important quality patient care indicators including mortality, patient satisfaction and patient safety to name just a few.

Any hospital that truly wants to improve its quality measures needs to start by increasing registered nurse staffing. This one change has the most potential to increase quality across the board.

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Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom

SEIU_MarchAugust 28th, 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and we are celebrating this anniversary by continuing the struggle for equality and economic justice that more than a quarter of a million people raised their voices for at the Lincoln Memorial that day in 1963.

It was at the march that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech — a speech which helped to shape modern America and encouraged everyone who was dreaming of a better future to keep fighting for that dream. While the speech was directed at the racism and horrible injustices faced by blacks in America, it was a dream of equality shared by men and women of all races and faiths who came to march on Washington that day.

The march for Jobs and Freedom was focused on more than civil rights. It also gave light to the grievous economic injustice of the day. Marchers called for a public works program and job training for the unemployed, federal laws banning discrimination in hiring, a $2-an-hour national minimum wage (equivalent to over $15-an-hour today) and a broadened Fair Labor Standards Act.

While progress has been made, these issues of equality and economic justice are still being fought for today and our union is on the front lines of that fight. Marchers in 1963 were fighting for “dignified jobs at decent wages. It’s a fight we continue to wage today. Since the late 1970s income inequality between the average American and the wealthiest 1% has grown astronomically. This was no accident, this inequality was created by policies and tax regulations that favor the wealthiest among us and continue to funnel America’s wealth away from workers and into the hands of the super rich.

Today, we are at the forefront of the fight for dignified jobs at decent wages. We stand with those calling for a national minimum wage — a living wage for hardworking Americans. We fight against CEOs and management who continue to exploit their employees’ hard work for their own obscene financial gain. We fight against those lawmakers who would disenfranchise voters by enacting unreasonable Voter ID laws. We fight against the lies and misinformation that opponents of the Affordable Care Act spread in an effort to undermine making affordable, quality healthcare available to everyone. We fight against a state legislature that refuses to expand the Medicaid program, despite the millions of dollars it would bring, the tens of thousands of jobs it would create and the hundreds of thousands of uninsured Pennsylvanians it would cover. We fight for a commonsense path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans who want to realize their own American Dream.

We fight together against the continued injustice that hard-working men and women still face today. We fight to realize our dreams.

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State Budget Stops the Bleeding, but Pennsylvania is Still in Critical Condition

PA-CRITICALTwo years of drastic budget cuts have left many essential public services in a critical state. Public education from Kindergarten all the way up to college has been slashed. Last year, funding for county human services was cut by 10%. Local governments and school districts are struggling to make up for the shortfalls. In many ways our state is on life support.

True to form, Governor Corbett’s proposed budget this year reflected his priorities of providing tax breaks to corporations over funding the education, health care and services Pennsylvanians’ need.

However, because of the action of many of our members and a wide range of other progressive organizations, the final 2013-2014 state budget will stop the hemorrhaging. Still, we have a long recovery before we are in a stable condition again.

Here’s a quick post-mortem on the final budget deal:

  • Overall spending levels in the budget increase 2.3% over last year.
  • Funding for K-12 education statewide increases $122.5 million, but that still leaves in place the 81% cut to state funding for public schools put in place since Governor Corbett took office.
  • The Accountability Block Grants that fund pre-K, full-day kindergarten and tutoring programs did not get an increase this year, leaving it with still less than half the funding it had in 2010.
  • State universities also did not get an increase to offset any of the 22% cut the system endured two years ago.
  • Medicaid funding increased slightly, but the State House effectively blocked an expansion of Medicaid that would have drawn down hundreds of millions of dollars from the Federal government and created tens of thousands of jobs.
  • Funding for programs for people with disabilities and child care increased by double digit percentages in many places in the budget, but the block grant program piloted last year that cuts county human services funding by 10% is being expanded to more counties this year.
  • Growth in prison spending continues to outpace growth in education funding nearly 2 to 1.

For considerably more detail, get the full scoop from our friends at the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center.

On the positive side, the legislature made some small moves to close a few of the main corporate tax loopholes that we have sought an end to over the last few years – including the Delaware Loophole. Unfortunately, at the same time the legislature created new tax breaks for banks, gas drillers, and people that own private planes.

Pennsylvania’s prognosis is uncertain, and the leadership in the legislature – and our Governor – doesn’t seem to have a plan for improving our outlook. It will take the continued effort of us, the front line caregivers of Pennsylvania, to turn our state around.

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Last minute deal promises to keep Labor Board functioning

National Labor Relations Board logo - colorIf anyone questioned how committed some legislators are to weakening unions and workers’ ability to challenge employers that violate their rights, one only has to look at a recent showdown in the Senate.

Some Republican Senators had been blocking votes on several Presidential appointees to the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and other agencies.

But when push came to shove, the fight was really over the Labor Board nominees, and it wasn’t until Senate Democrats planned to change long standing Senate rules that a deal to fill the NLRB seats was reached.

Why such a big deal over the National Labor Relations Board? Because it’s one of the last checks on the power of corporations, and the main arbiter of disputes between unions and employers. If big corporations and their defenders in Congress can render the NLRB inoperative, the uneven playing field that is labor relations in our country would become almost entirely one-sided.

If you doubt the motive, talk to Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) who at the beginning of the controversy said that making the NLRB “inoperable is progress”.

So what does the NLRB do exactly? The NLRB oversees the process most workers use to form a union, and protects workers’ right to band together to improve their lives. It was formed in 1935 after the National Labor Rights Act was passed to enforce the law and provide a structured process for resolving disputes.

But over the years, employers – with the help of conservative courts – have managed to weaken workers rights.  Employers have figure out ways to crush union organizing campaigns while staying within the letter of the law.  Moreover, the penalties for violating workers’ rights are so weak that some employers even go so far as to fire or discipline workers who are trying to form a union, and get little more than a slap on the wrist.

Right here close to home we saw a recent example of this when the Region 6 office of the National Labor Relations Board settled allegations that UPMC committed 80 separate violations of labor law – including firing two workers. UPMC put the fired workers back to work and reimburse back pay, but no further fine or penalty was imposed.

Filling the NLRB appointments so that the Board can continue to operate is good news for workers, but we have a ways to go before there’s a level playing field that lets workers freely organize and we can rebuild the middle class.

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Two Supreme Court Decisions Have Potential to Help Patients

US Supreme Court - correctedThe Supreme Court has been busy the last couple weeks issuing new rulings in a wide range of cases.

In the realm of health care, two decisions could be good news for patients.

The first case might mean more access to cheaper, generic prescription drugs. Most people know that when a company creates a new drug, they get a patent for it so that no one can make a generic drug for at least a few years.

In some cases, the drug company holding the patent has essentially paid generic drug companies to drop legal challenges to the patent. It’s called “pay-to-delay” and it keeps cheaper, generic drugs out of the hands of patients.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) took one drug company, Actavis, to court over these “pay-to-delay” settlements, but the case was appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court wisely decided that the FTC has the right to challenge drug companies that “pay-to-delay”. While that underlying antitrust suit still needs to be settled, hopefully it will lead to quicker access to generic drugs.

The second case prevents companies from patenting our genes – kind of. It’s a complicated case, but here are the basics. Myriad Genetics patented the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes, recently made famous by Angelina Jolie. Having a mutation in the BRCA-1 gene can raise the risk of developing breast cancer from 12% to 60%.

Since Myriad held the patent on the gene, it was the only company that could develop the test to let patients know if they had a mutation. A test they charged $4,000 for.

With the ruling from the Supreme Court last week, other companies at least now have the prospect of developing other tests for mutations since Myriad can’t continue to hold a patent on the entire gene.

Where the decision gets complicated and the future gets murky is that the Supreme Court took care to note that complementary DNA could be patented. It would be well beyond the scope of this post to explain cDNA. Luckily others have done that for us.

The bottom line here is that no one company can patent an entire gene, opening the door for others to conduct research, develop tests and therapies. And that, should be good news for patients.

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