Affordable Care Act
For months now, we have watched Highmark and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) battle grow over providing services for so many individuals in our region. I have heard from dozens of my constituents saying government must get involved and stopped this from happening. However, what if you are one of the unfortunate individuals who do not have health insurance to receive these services? Imagine being told you can’t see a doctor based on factors you cannot always control. Don’t these people matter too?
After months of partisan debate, in March 2010, Congress narrowly passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in hopes of reducing the nation’s escalating uninsured population. The new mandate, dubbed “Obamacare,” requires uninsured individuals, above a certain income level, to purchase health insurance or face penalties which become effective January 1, 2014. In addition, the creation of state insurance exchanges will take place under this act where people and small businesses can buy private coverage from a range of competing insurers. This new law is estimated to extend health coverage for about 32 million uninsured Americans.
The act protects all citizens and adds a safety net by imposing new restrictions on health insurers, barring them from excluding customers with preexisting health conditions as well as requires that all customers be charged the same rates. A wide range of healthy individuals will be needed in order for these new exchanges to be successful and keep rates down. However, individuals will have the ability to “opt out” of purchasing health insurance. If a person decides to opt out of buying coverage, they will incur a penalty starting at $95 or 1 percent of their income in 2014, whichever is greater, growing to $695 or 2.5 percent of their income by 2016.
The Affordable Care Act also requires businesses with 50 or more employees to provide a minimum level of health insurance for each employee, or pay a penalty of $2,000. Qualified businesses would receive a 35 percent tax credit to lower the cost of providing insurance.
Medicaid’s size will be fundamentally restructured and expanded under the new law by raising income levels of those who qualify. For decades, Medicaid has been a health-care benefit available only to people with income levels below the federal poverty line. At the end of May, Pennsylvania administered Medicaid insurance to 2.2 million people. The expansion of Medicaid would include an estimated 800,000 Pennsylvanians and 17 million people nationwide.
The federal government will pay for all the cost of the expansion of Medicaid, apart from additional administrative outlays, for several years. The states’ share of the cost of the expansion will reach 10 percent by 2020. The Health and Human Services Department has the ability to withhold a state’s entire Medicaid allotment if the state does not comply with the Medicaid provisions.
Many leaders and lawmakers across the country feel that this new law is unconstitutional because it forces individuals to purchase insurance as well as increases states’ Medicaid spending. For that reason, 20 states have joined together and challenged the Affordable Care Act, including Pennsylvania. In March, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in several lawsuits over the law and a decision was made by the court on June 28, 2012. Essentially, the Supreme Court upheld President Obama’s health-care overhaul, including the requirement that all nonexempt Americans buy health insurance and the provisions expanding Medicaid, but, the court struck down the requirement that states lose all of their federal Medicaid funding if they decline to participate in the expansion.
Most Republican-led states have been counting on the law to be overturned and have failed to begin the process to set up exchanges. This is the current situation Pennsylvania faces. In fact, Pennsylvania’s Insurance Department has yet to spend any of its $33 million in federal grants to develop the marketplaces. Governor Tom Corbett has said that no decision has been made on whether our state would participate in the Medicaid expansion. The question now remains if Pennsylvania can meet the January 2014 deadline. If our state can’t or doesn’t meet the deadline the federal government will step in and run our health exchanges for us.
Pennsylvania has already joined the more than a dozen states with laws pertaining to the provisions of the Affordable Care Act. In March, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 10 which amends the Pennsylvania Constitution to prohibit the government from mandating that an individual obtain health insurance coverage. The General Assembly would need to reapprove the constitutional amendment in their 2013-14 session and then present it to voters before it could become state law.
As a world leader, many nations look to the United States to set the tone for how citizens should be treated and what services should be received, yet we still have millions of people in our country uninsured. Many decades ago, President Harry Truman was the first president to propose a universal health care plan for our country and many unsuccessful attempts have been made thereafter by both Republican and Democratic Presidents and leaders alike. Furthermore, health care is close to one-fifth of the U.S. economy, and we spend about 50 percent more on it than any other industrialized country. However, the United States still remains the only industrialized nation to not have universal coverage for its citizens. What has taken us so long to pass such a measure?
What this new mandate does is offer the promise of guaranteed coverage at affordable prices. Every taxpayer should be entitled to the care they need and we should not be putting more hurdles in the way to prevent such a goal. Pennsylvania has had plenty of time to start to developing health exchanges and instead the administration is pushing constitutional amendments to deny people of their rights. I can only hope that this latest United States Supreme Court ruling will be the final word and let the country know that we need to get down to business so that uninsured families across the United States no longer have to suffer.
Tax Revenue from Slot Machines Continues to Rise
During the 2011-12 fiscal year, tax revenues from slot machines in casinos across Pennsylvania increased 5% from the previous, 2010-11 fiscal year. Tax revenue from all slot machines in Pennsylvania casinos totaled over $1.34 billion this year compared to the $1.28 billion in tax revenue generated in 2010-11. Since the opening of the first slot machines in Pennsylvania in 2006, over $6 billion in tax revenue has been generated.
This revenue is used to fund property tax reductions for homeowners, increased purses for the horse racing industry, economic development projects, local fire and emergency company grants, and the General Fund budget. Also, communities that host casinos receive a share of tax revenue.
The benefits from gaming in Pennsylvania continue beyond tax revenue. According to the PA Gaming Control Board, casinos throughout the Commonwealth employ more than 16,000 workers and the gaming industry spends hundreds of millions dollars annually to purchase goods and services from other businesses in Pennsylvania.
As the Democratic Chair of the Senate’s Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee, I continue to look at ways the Commonwealth can help spur economic development. I understand the positive impact gaming has made in Pennsylvania, not just in the form of tax revenue, but also in generating other economic development opportunities. A renewed focus on economic development in Pennsylvania will increase tax revenue, provide jobs and help small businesses, much the same way the gaming industry has done.
I was honored and privileged for the opportunity to shake hands with President Obama during his visit to Pittsburgh on July 6th. The President spoke before an estimated crowd of 7,000 on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University about his vision to rebuild the middle class by pursuing policies that help working families all across the country. Much of his message touched on many of the priorities that my Senate Democratic colleagues and I have been advocating for including closing corporate tax loopholes, rewarding companies that invest in American workers and a true shared sacrifice so our most vulnerable citizens still receive the help and support they need. I am grateful the President took the time, once again, to visit our region and appreciate his commitment to the working men and women in our country.
Food Bank Sponsored Farm Stands
Community Farm Stands are open to the public for the 2012 season. This program, started by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank in 1993, makes fresh produce available to low-income neighborhoods with limited access to grocery stores. The Farm Stands are open to anyone interested in purchasing fresh food. In addition to accepting cash, the Farm Stands accept public program benefits such as Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) issued checks and SNAP (formerly known as food stamps).
The Farm Stands are stocked with produce purchased directly from local farmers, and this year volunteer chefs from Eat’n Park will be cooking up locally grown vegetables at select Food Bank Farm Stand locations. The Food Bank operates 13 Farm Stands throughout the greater Pittsburgh area at selected times on Wednesdays and Thursdays. To view a full schedule of Farm Stands, please visit the Food Bank's website. You may also call 412-460-3663, ext. 216 for more information. The program runs through November 15th.
Did You Know…
Did you know the Pirates had a record of 45-36 at the official midway point of the 2012 Major League Baseball season, making it their best first half record since the 1991 season when they were 50-31? In their last post-season appearance, in 1992, the Pirates were 44-37 at the official midway point of the season.
Around the District
Heidelberg Receives Recognition
The Borough of Heidelberg was recently recognized by the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs (PSAB) at its annual conference. The borough received a first place award for its newsletter and a second place award for its website (www.HeidelbergBorough.com). PSAB grades submitted publications based on information quality, appearance, order and superiority in disseminating information. Congratulations to all the officials in Heidelberg on this recognition and for your efforts in communicating with the borough’s residents!
Beechview Sidewalk Sale
Beechview Area Concerned Citizens are looking for vendors to participate in the Beechview Sidewalk Sale on July 14th. The Sidewalk Sale will run from 9 a.m. – 3p.m. along Broadway Avenue. If you are interested in participating please call 412-341-8768.
The 31st Annual Brookline Breeze 5K Race and Fitness Walk is fast approaching. This year’s race is being held on Saturday, August 11th with festivities scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. at Brookline Park. In addition to the race, which begins at 9 a.m., kids can participate in a Mini-Breeze and dog owners can participate in a 1-mile Dog Walk. The 5K will begin at Brookline Park and continue up Brookline Boulevard before turning left at Pioneer Avenue and then turning around and ending back at the park. Top runners in all age groups will be presented with awards after the race. Following the race, runners and attendees are invited to Boulevard BreezeFest, a community celebration along Brookline Boulevard that features merchant sales, games, prizes, inflatable rides and much more. For more information, to register for the race online, or to download and print an application, please visit http://www.brooklinebreeze.com/.
Stowe Township Street Fair
The annual Stowe Township Street Fair began yesterday and runs through Saturday, July 14th. The annual fair, which began in the 1930’s, is being held on the grounds of Sto-Rox High School and is open nightly from 6 – 10 p.m. The fair features great food, amusement rides, games and bingo. Attendees can purchase single-ride or ride-all-night tickets at the on-site ticket trailer. Proceeds from the Street Fair benefit the Stowe Township Volunteer Fire Department.
Bellevue Summer Concerts & Movies
The Bayne Park Summer 2012 Concert and Movie Series is underway in Bellevue. Each Wednesday through August 22nd a feature movie or concert will be held in Bayne Park, in front of the Andrew Bayne Memorial Library in Bellevue. Concerts begin at 7 p.m. and movies begin at dusk. To view a schedule of movies and concerts please visit the Bellevue Borough website.
West End Village Community Night
Mark your calendars for the 1st Annual West End Village Community Night scheduled for July 20th at the Village Square Park. Festivities will begin at 7 p.m. and include a dedication of the new plaque on the Veterans Memorial, a park dedication, and live entertainment from Pittsburgh Musical Theater’s Extreme Teen Broadway group and the band Feral. At dusk, the first ever Movie on Main will feature the Disney and Pixar film, UP. Popcorn and sno-cones will be available, but attendees are welcome to bring their own snacks for the film along with blankets and chairs.
Elder-Ado Offers Free Legal Services
The Elder-Ado will be providing free legal assistance for seniors at its Knoxville Center on July 25th, August 22nd, and September 26th, from 9:30 a.m. – noon. To schedule an appointment call Janet Kirik at 412-381-6900. The Knoxville Center is located at 320 Brownsville Road.
The Sixth Street Bridge, known today as the Roberto Clemente Bridge, was built between the years 1925-1928, connecting Sixth Street and Ft. Duquesne Boulevard with Federal Street. This bridge is one of three “Sister” bridges along with the Seventh and Ninth Street Bridges. These structures are the only trio of nearly identical bridges, as well as the first self-anchored suspension spans, built in the United States. Today, the Clemente Bridge also serves as a pedestrian bridge before and after Pirates’ games at PNC Park.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana