Affordable Care Act Brings New Health Care Options to Pennsylvania

— by Chris Lilienthal

Beginning today, Pennsylvanians who are working but lack health insurance will be able to shop for and compare options for affordable coverage, on a new competitive Health Insurance Marketplace established by the federal health care law.

Today marks the first day of a six-month open enrollment period, during which uninsured Pennsylvanians and their families will be able to buy coverage with the help of federal tax subsidies on the new Marketplace. It is the latest provision of the Affordable Care Act to take effect.

More after the jump.
Advocates and health care providers explained during a State Capitol press conference today that the new Marketplace will open the door to health coverage for hundreds of thousands of hardworking Pennsylvanians, who will be able to see a doctor for the first time in years.

Sharon Ward, director of the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, said:

This is the beginning of a journey toward meeting the health care needs of individuals and families across the nation. The Marketplace will give Pennsylvanians valuable new options, and allow them to decide which coverage best fits their family’s needs.

The Marketplace is designed for those who don’t have health coverage through their employers and are not eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, or Children’s Health Insurance Program. Those with employer-offered coverage can keep it.

Insurance companies participating in the Marketplace will compete to provide the best product at the best price to consumers seeking health coverage. Tough rules will ensure that every package sold on the Marketplace covers the basics, like annual checkups and preventive medicine.

Pam Clarke, vice president of finance and managed care for The Hospital & Health System Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), said at the press conference:

Pennsylvania hospitals and health systems across the state stand ready to support consumers in this important enrollment process. We are committed to ensuring that more Pennsylvanians have access to affordable, timely, quality health care, which is so critical to their quality of life. The hospital community and HAP believe the Health Insurance Marketplace will be successful in enrolling many Pennsylvanians in viable health plans.

The Affordable Care Act will also make health care coverage more secure by ensuring that working families cannot be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition, or lose their coverage or be forced into bankruptcy when someone gets sick. Lifetime caps on insurance benefits will also be a thing of the past.

Seniors who receive Medicare will be able to keep it and do not need to go through the new Marketplace for coverage. Under the Affordable Care Act, Medicare will cover more prescription drug costs as the new law will close the donut hole.

Ray Landis, advocacy manager for American Association of Retired Persons Pennsylvania, said:

The beginning of the health exchange open enrollment process is especially important for those between the ages of 50 and 64, who are not yet eligible for Medicare, but who have had the most difficult time finding affordable health insurance, because of the chronic health conditions that affect many people in this age group.

Patricia Fonzi, vice president of customer service and relationship management of the Family Health Council of Central Pennsylvania, added:

The new law also improves health care for women and children. No longer will insurers be able to charge women more than men for the same coverage or deny coverage for maternity care.

Pennsylvanians should go to the Marketplace’s website to apply through the state’s federally-established Marketplace and to find additional information and help. Open enrollment runs from Oct. 1, 2013 through March 31, 2014. Applicants must apply by Dec. 15 to begin receiving coverage Jan. 1. People needing assistance can call 1-800-318-2596.  

New Report: Pennsylvania Needs to Invest in Education

— by Chris Lilienthal

The best way for Pennsylvania to grow its economy is by investing in a well-educated workforce, according to a new study from the Economic Analysis and Research Network (EARN), a network of 61 state/local and 25 national economic think tanks coordinated by the Economic Policy Institute.

As college students return to campus and children head back to the classroom, this new report finds a strong link between the educational attainment of a state’s workforce and both productivity and workers’ pay. Expanding access to high-quality education will create more economic opportunity for Pennsylvania residents and do more to strengthen the state’s overall economy than anything else.

More after the jump.
“To paraphrase James Carville, ‘it’s invest in education, stupid,'” said Dr. Stephen Herzenberg, economist and executive director of the Keystone Research Center, a member of the EARN Network. “The powerful evidence that states making investments in education have more robust economies raises fundamental questions about recent Pennsylvania policies.”

The report, Education Investment is Key to State Prosperity, was authored by Noah Berger, president of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, and Peter Fisher, research director at the Iowa Policy Project.

At the heart of the paper is evidence that states with larger increases in college-degree share from 1979 to 2012 enjoyed faster productivity growth:

  • For example, the top 10 states (measured by change in education levels) increased their share of adults (25 and over) with a bachelor’s degree by an average of 18 percentage points, twice as much as the 9 percentage points in the bottom 10 states.
  • The top 10 states also experienced productivity growth nearly twice as large: 82% versus 44% in the bottom 10 states. Investment in education by a state is also associated with higher living standards for typical workers. Top 10 states (measured by the increase in college-degree share) saw median compensation (pay plus benefits) rise by about 20% compared with barely any increase in bottom 10 states (4%).

The relationship between education and pay was much weaker before 1979, in part because large numbers of high-paid manufacturing jobs lifted up the wages of non-college workers. “It is more important now than ever that we invest in education, to boost the strength of the economy and for the sake of future generations of Pennsylvanians,” said Dr. Herzenberg.

Pennsylvania had the 12th-biggest increase in college-degree share since 1979, but still ranks in the middle of the pack, 26th, based on 2009 Census data. The large share of Pennsylvania adults with no education beyond high school also holds back the state’s productivity and wage levels, helping to explain why Pennsylvania had only the 28th largest increase in productivity since 1979, and the 33rd largest increase in compensation.

Of Pennsylvania’s neighbors, New Jersey and Maryland enjoyed top-10 increases in college-degree share, and top-third increases in productivity and median compensation. At the opposite end of the spectrum, West Virginia and Ohio finished 30th and 43rd respectively for the change in college degree attainment, and 43rd and 46th measured by change in median compensation.

According to the new study, Pennsylvania can increase the educational attainment of its population by investing in quality K-12 education, working to slow the growth of college tuition, and offering universal preschool programs. However, recent trends in Pennsylvania have gone in the opposite direction, with state budget cuts to higher education and K-12 schools, including funds that were used for full-day kindergarten and pre-K programs.

Meanwhile, the research evidence shows, cutting taxes to recruit employers from other states is shortsighted, promoting a race to the bottom that undermines the states’ ability to invest in, and attract, an educated workforce. The paper finds no consistent relationship between a state’s tax rates and its wages.