Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pennsylvania Health Access Network’s Statement on Halbig v. Burwell

Harrisburg, PA -- Antoinette Kraus, Director of the Pennsylvania Health Access Network issued the following statement on today's ruling in Halbig v. Burwell:

“Today’s decision in Halbig v. Burwell has no immediate impact on the ability of Pennsylvanians to use premium tax credits to lower the cost of their health insurance plans purchased through the Marketplace.

We are confident that when the D.C. Court of Appeals reviews this case en banc they will recognize, as multiple other courts have ruled, inlcuding the 4th Circuit Court in Virgnia today that the intent of  the law was that all Marketplace enrollees receive income-based financial assistance. We are optimistic that on appeal the rulling will uphold the right of all Americans to access tax credits no matter where they live.

The Affordable Care Act's premium tax credits have helped hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians afford quality, comprehensive health care -- many for the first time in years. In fact, 81% of the 318,077 Pennsylvanians who purchased coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace during the first open enrollment period used the law's tax credits to lower their monthly premiums.

Opponents of the law refuse to accept the reality that the Affordable Care Act is working for millions of Americans -- thanks in part to the tax credits that will still be available to them despite this one ruling. The Pennsylvania Health Access Network will continue to educate Pennsylvanians about the new choices, protections and financial assistance the law brings as we approach the second open enrollment period.”

Vertical Farming Taking Root in Pennsylvania

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA
DALTON, Pa. - In a sprawling, formerly abandoned warehouse near Scranton, the proof is in the produce as a
vertical farming operation has reaped its first harvest.

Minnesota-based Green Spirit Farms is using the Scranton-area site to grow high-quality, pesticide-free, non-GMO fruits and vegetables. Green Spirit president Milan Kluko says vertical farming uses huge shelves, or palate racks, and can grow produce on multiple levels.

"It's nine feet across by four feet deep, so that's 36 square feet, and then at 36 square feet we can grow 1,016 heads of lettuce, or we can plant 1,016 basil plants," says Kluko. "We can plant up to 10,000 arugula plants, and we do it all in 21 to 30 days."

Kluko says the goal of Green Spirit Farms is to develop vertical farming using carbon neutral or renewable energy when practical, and also to use compostable and recycled packaging for their produce sold to retail customers.

For Kluko, the most compelling aspect of vertical farming involves water conservation. He cites overall water use in growing romaine lettuce in California and Arizona using traditional methods, as opposed to growing it vertically.

"In California, they use about seven-and-a-half gallons per one head," says Kluko. "In Arizona, they use about 25 gallons per head. We use 0.33 gallons per head because we recycle about 40 to 50 percent of the nutrient-rich water we use right back into the system."

Kluko says municipalities can look to vertical farming as a way to "reoccupy" land previously used for industrial purposes or some commercial uses, also known as brownfields.

"That particular building outside of Scranton was vacant for 12 years," says Kluko. "We came in about this time last summer to start the demonstration farm, so we've been growing there since June 9th and were up and running, and our first harvest before the fourth of July."

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Broader Scope: Hobby Lobby's Potential Impact in PA

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HARRISBURG, Pa. - As the dust clears from this week's Supreme Court decision letting companies use religious objections to avoid paying for contraceptive coverage, what remains unclear is how that ruling will play out in Pennsylvania.

Concerns are being raised over the impact Tuesday's ruling could have on issues ranging from gay rights to vaccinations in the workplace. John Neurohr, communications director with the group Keystone Progress, says it puts Pennsylvania workers in an especially fragile position.

"They will now all be subject to the personal religious beliefs of their employers when it comes to health insurance and other benefits," says Neurohr, "and that's just not the kind of country we want to live in."

Neurohr adds the decision is an example of putting politics where it doesn't belong.

"Because of how weak the logic is of this particular opinion, I think there's no doubt now that even the Supreme Court has been hyper-politicized," says Neurohr. "I think that's really unfortunate."

Supporters of the decision call it a victory for the religious freedom of people of all faiths. Neurohr disagrees, noting religious freedom also includes a person's right not to have religion imposed on them by others.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pennsylvania Can’t Afford To Miss The Opportunity To Expand Health Care Access

New Council of Economic Advisers Report Shows Cost To Pennsylvania Over Failure To Expand Medicaid

HARRISBURG, PA – Today, the Council of Economic Advisers released a new report - “Missed Opportunities: The Consequences of State Decisions Not to Expand Medicaid.” The report shows the economic and health care costs to Pennsylvania over the decision by Governor Corbett and the GOP state legislature to put politics over people and failure to expand health care access to 305,000 people who fall into the coverage gap.

“States that are expanding Medicaid are seeing economic and health benefits in billions of dollars coming into their economy, reduced out of pocket health care expenses for their citizens and a healthier population,” said Michael Morrill of Keystone Progress. “Pennsylvania, due to the political priorities of Governor Corbett and the GOP state legislature, is seeing just the opposite. Women are getting fewer mammograms, our citizens fewer cancer screenings and doctor visits, while they are paying more for the care they do receive. Our state is throwing away new jobs and sending our tax dollars to states who are expanding instead of investing them back here at home. The CEA report provides even more evidence that expanding Medicaid comes with significant benefits we can’t afford to turn down.”

Key findings from the report include that if Pennsylvania expanded Medicaid — 

Health Benefits Include:
  • 11,100 more women between the ages of 50-64 would receive mammograms.
  • 17,600 more women would receive pap smears.
  • 25,000 fewer people will go untreated for depression.

Personal Economic Benefits Include:
  • 13,700 fewer people will face catastrophic out-of-pocket Medicaid expenses per year.

State Economic Benefits Include:
  • Pennsylvania will receive $8.2 billion in federal support through 2016.
  • 35,200 more jobs in Pennsylvania through 2017.
  • $6.18 billion in total economic activity through 2017 (GDP).