Thursday, May 23, 2013

Get Active, Get Local

It seems like local politics has been all I've been thinking about for the last month or so leading up to the primary election and now that the primaries are over I have something new, but still local, to think about.  Hopefully everyone has heard about the upcoming Altoona Regional Hospital/UPMC merger.  You may not have heard much about it, no one has.

I was happy, yesterday afternoon, to get a call from Paula Stellabotte, who asked me to come and speak at the City Council meeting as a concerned community member.  As a very concerned community member I did go and speak.  My concerns were several.  For starters, I, as many people, am concerned about what will happen if Altoona Regional becomes a UPMC hospital which accepts primarily UPMC insurance.  According to recent reports, there 44,000 people in Blair County have some form of Highmark insurance.  The concern I stated was that medical costs can be a huge financial strain on a family even when you have decent insurance.  I cannot imagine what I would do if I really needed the hospital and suddenly the hospital in my city were considered Out-of-Network for insurance purposes.  The hospital is a ten minute drive from my house.  As far as I'm concerned, that's in my network.

From what I could tell most of the councilmen* shared our concerns.  Whether that's through genuine concern or not liking being in the dark about something, who can tell.  Councilman Butterbaugh seemed especially attentive.

After the public concerns portion of the meeting the councilmen had some discussion and shared some of their thoughts and concerns.  Councilman Neugebauer expressed concern that while Highmark is a semi-national insurance company which might be accepted in - per his example - Florida.  Meanwhile, UPMC is a regional insurance company and would it be as widely accepted outside the sphere of UPMC influence?

I think those of us that were there looking for our elected officials to get interested in doing something were pretty pleased.  In the realm of unhelpful commentary, Councilman Kelley jumped into the ring with the Affordable Care Act.  He wondered what would happen when more of the AFA kicks in what would happen, like with the insurance marketplace.  He said that he that it wasn't clear whether either UPMC or Highmark would be participating in the insurance marketplace and what if people bought insurance that isn't accepted by local providers.

Let's be very clear about one thing: AFA is a red herring.  This is about the UPMC merger.  Don't let anyone muddy this issue.  This issue is about UPMC and the Altoona Regional Hospital pushing through a merger that our community knows nothing about.  It's about our community hospital merging with a hospital system in danger of losing its non-profit status, a system with unreasonably high prices, a system locked in a not very healthy competition with Highmark.

A hospital is a community institution.  As a community, we deserve to know what changes this will bring to our future.  As Paula Stellabotte said last night at the meeting, once this merger goes through it's done.  The hospital won't be sold again in a year or two.  This will likely be permanent.  Let's not let this merger happen in the shadows.

If you're as concerned about this merger as I am, please visit and sign the petition there to let UPMC and the Altoona Regional Hospital board and administration know that we deserve answers.

*Hey, I bet you were wondering what that asterisk was about earlier.  Normally I might say "councilpersons", but with the Altoona City Council there's no need.  It's literally "councilmen".  Specifically, it's a group of middle-aged plus white guys.  It's more than a little depressing.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Party of Personal Regulation

The Republican Party, ladies and gentlemen.  They're the party of "freedom" and "liberty" and "rights".  They want these things for rich white people men.  For everyone else they want to make sure that you are living in the way that they feel is appropriate and righteous and gods forbid (God forbid, I suppose) that your life doesn't fit into their narrowly conservative cherry-picked literal(ish) interpretation of Christianity then you aren't a patriotic American.  Quite frankly I'm sick and tired of hearing incessantly about liberty and freedom and democracy and then in the next sentence hearing how other people just living their lives is an impediment to someone's freedom.

Today I read an article at Politicus USA wherein we find that craven, fear-mongering, hate-filled, bible-thumping, evangelists of dickery claim that if God-fearing Christians can't discriminate against gay people and if America is going to allow gay people to get married then America will "descend into paganism".   This Reverend, whose name you will have to check out the Politcus article to learn as I will not darken my blog with it, claims that allowing same-sex marriage will lead to Christian persecution.  Does that sound logical to you?  It's not.  Why am I worked up about this?  Two reasons and their names are Daryl Metcalfe and the Pennsylvania Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.

Let's start with Daryl Metcalfe, who is introducing, or reintroducing a constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex marriage.  For those of you keeping score, same-sex marriage is already not a thing in Pennsylvania.  Marriage is already not available to same-sex couples, but Daryl Metcalfe thinks that there is nothing more important to do than to double ban it.  Well, maybe double-banning same-sex marriage is only slightly more important than wooing gun makers with the false promise of a state that ignores federal gun laws.  That's just a close second to making sure that same-sex couples are being actively discriminated against.

Next on my list the PA Senate Banking and Insurance Committee who recently approved a bill which would restrict insurance companies on the insurance marketplace from covering elective abortions.  Let's just rephrase that in a really clear way, shall we?  The insurance marketplace is where people can go to buy their own insurance from a nominally competitive marketplace.  It's where people can go to buy their own insurance.  With their own money.  They buy insurance with their own money.  And now, the people who insist that we can't stop people from buying whatever gun they want do insist that women who spend their own money to buy their own insurance cannot have coverage for the possibility of an abortion.  There will be exceptions for rape and incest, but not for instances where the life of the mother is at risk.  If you keep up with international news at all you may remember (or should certainly read and learn about) the case of Savita Halappanavar who died needlessly and in excruciating pain because Ireland doesn't allow abortions except maybe possibly in the event that the mother's life is in danger, but what doctor is going to take a chance on a maybe exception?

Do I sound angry?  It's because I am.

Edited to add:
A little bit ago I got an email from Equality PA which contained this awesome quote from Daryl Metcalfe...

It’s been traditionally looked at as morally repulsive to talk with someone about our sexual behaviors,” said Representative Daryl Metcalfe, who added that he couldn’t think of a reason to “provide protection in statute so that people could go about offending their neighbors.”

Yeah.  Awesome.