Dressed in Halloween costumes, organizers with advocacy groups Working America and One Pittsburgh stood outside of Gov. Tom Corbett’s Pittsburgh office today to call for the expansion of Medicaid.
“I think everyone in America is entitled to healthcare,” said Penny Barrett, a One Pittsburgh volunteer from Troy Hill. "I think healthcare needs to stop being about business. It’s a human right."
As part of the Affordable Care Act Pennsylvania could receive federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage to a larger number of low-income uninsured individuals, but Gov. Corbett has denied the expansion.
Starting in 2014, the expansion would extend Medicaid to individuals making up to $15,900 and families of four with income up to $32,400. According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, this would benefit an estimated 700,000 Pennsylvanians.
Among the protestors was Georgeanne Koehler, who says her brother died at 57 because he was denied health insurance due to a pre-existing condition and could not receive the necessary healthcare.
“Without Medicaid, he couldn’t get insurance with a pre-existing condition, but he made too much to qualify for Medicaid,” said Georgeanne Koehler. “Our health should never be a matter of politics. It’s a matter of life and death.”
Gov. Corbett is looking into an alternative approach that would use the federal funding to provide subsidies for individuals who want to purchase private insurance plans.
Dozens gathered at the U.S. Steel Tower earlier today to condemn UPMC for outsourcing its medical transcription jobs. This month, the displaced workers, now employed by Massachusetts-based Nuance, received their first paychecks, which were greatly reduced by as much as 60 percent from their take home pay at UPMC.
“What UPMC has done to these transcriptionists is wrong,” said Pastor Eric McIntosh from St. James Episcopal Church in Penn Hills.
The former UPMC transcriptionists were notified in May that their jobs would be moved to Nuance. While many were able to keep their jobs by switching to the new company, their pay was changed from hourly, to a rate based on how much work they complete. Ironically, they also lost their UPMC health insurance and say they are paying higher premiums and deductibles with their new insurance plan under Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.
In addition to decreased wages, the transcriptionists at the rally complained of increased stress.
“We have lost our security and most of all, we have lost respect for UPMC,” said transcriptionist Veronica Smith.
If you were walking around Market Square Thursday afternoon, there's a chance you were approached by Sandra O'Connor.
Not the former Supreme Court jurist (though she gets that question a lot), the Jamaica Hospital emergency room nurse from Queens, New York. She says many of the patients she sees are uninsured and "they use [the ER] like a doctor's office." O'Connor thinks the Affordable Care Act will change that, by increasing the numbers of people who are insured and get preventative care.
Along with several hundred other nurses clad in purple and armed with handouts about the ACA, members of the Service Employees International Union took to the streets and found out just how little the average Pittsburgher knows about the new healthcare law.
"They don't understand that if they have a pre-existing condition, they'll be covered," says nurse Lynnea Barnett, adding that politicization of the law has created lots of misinformation — including the misconception that "Obamacare" and the ACA are different pieces of legislation.
State Rep. Erin Molchany, city council Democratic nominee Dan Gilman and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald all echoed the need to inform the public on the new law.
"Social Security had glitches when it was introduced decades ago," Fitzgerald says. "We need to make sure we get the word out."
"It's the Affordable Care Act, not Obamacare," Gilman says.
Concerns about that distinction aren't inconsequential. A recent CNBC poll shows 30 percent of the public doesn't know what the ACA is compared with 12 percent when asked about "Obamacare."
But if it's any consolation, O'Connor says most people just ignored her or said they're already insured.
State Rep. Erin Molchany will host a public hearing on the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday. The hearing will be held at 10 a.m., at St. Pamphilus Banquet Hall, 1000 Tropical Ave., Beechview.
The hearing will include testimony from experts in the insurance and health care industries, nonprofits and community leaders.
In a press release, Molchany, who is co-chairing the meeting, says she hopes to clarify the changes to the health care industry as a result of the Affordable Care Act and to provide information on the resources available to Pennsylvanians eligible for new benefits through this law.
The hearing is open to the public.
Judging from the dueling ads that UPMC and Highmark have been airing, it seems like Pittsburghers have nothing better to do than sit around in diners and bitch about healthcare. Both healthcare titans have aired ads in which diner customers complain about how terrible the other healthcare titan is.
It remains to be seen which enterprise wins the hearts and minds of Pittsburghers. But UPMC may be off to a bad start: Its ad appears to have been filmed at a diner in Columbus, Ohio.
Third in a three-part series by Ruchika Rai
The Americanization of yoga has often resulted in a practice that’s commercialized, expensive and inaccessible to ordinary people.
The original yoga was quite different. The ancient yogis performed the surya namaskar (sun salutations) literally at sunrise. Nowhere in India would you find a place where early morning temperature is as high as the 109 degrees Fahrenheit you’d find at a hot-yoga class.
Clearly, the aim was to allow the body to rejuvenate for the day ahead and be one with nature. Hot-yoga studios, in the city, are far from any trace of nature, and unnecessarily tough on the body. Think about departing the yoga studio into a snowy winter day or night: The skin receives a huge shock, something it’s not evolutionarily designed to deal with. Talk about looking younger.
What’s the solution? Here’s one approach that’s worked for me. Having lived in India my entire life until this past summer, I’d join a fitness center that had exotic group classes and attend for a couple of months. The moment I felt that I could replicate the steps on my own, I canceled my membership and practiced independently. That gave me a much-needed change in fitness routine and saved a considerable amount of money.
The approach with yoga is similar, tried and tested over the years. There are many great ways to learn yoga fundamentals, including classes and DVDs. But the key strategy is this: Form groups and get out in the park to do yoga together.
In the summers it would be a good idea to have a sunrise yoga session at Schenley Park. Come winter, it won’t hurt to call over friends at home and do some yogasana together.
Yoga has stood the test of time as one of the oldest forms of physical fitness. The least we can do is give the founders some credit and not tamper with it more than necessary. Maybe then we shall be able to truly embrace the essence of yoga and reap its benefits.
Second in a three-part series by Ruchika Rai
On my first foray to an American hot-yoga studio, the first thing that struck me was the merchandise section right next to the reception. On sale were branded two-piece yoga suits (that can also be used as swimwear) for approximately $50 a piece. Quite a change from my home country of India, where yoga is a universally accessible yet also noncommercial part of the culture.
Perenially on a low budget, I decided to brave the high-temperature yogasana in normal gym apparel. (Albeit, as luck would have it, I happened to find myself the $50 yoga shorts at $10 on Wal-Mart that evening.)
I attended the first class successfully, and this is how I described it to my mother (back in India), on Skype: “Imagine doing yoga under the sun during summers, when the temperature is over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and paying for it. That’s how it feels.”
Not surprisingly my mother replied, “You must really be insane to do such a thing.”
Hot yoga exemplifies a health phenomenon particular to a consumer society. Time and again, bridging the distinctions between cultures, languages and intellect, we tend to accept, rather naively, the promises of health experts offering illogical health solutions.
When we import an idea from another country, we instead ought to ensure that we accept it wholly, and let it really absorb in our system. If we fail to do that — if we change a traditional practice too much to suit commercial needs — we contribute in creating a lop-sided market, benefiting very few.
Not only is “hot yoga” something no one in India would bother with. But the popularization of yoga in the U.S. has brought about two additional phenomena: high price per class, and a high attrition rate. For instance, a 2007 New York Times article reported an attrition rate of almost 30 percent.
Meanwhile, media reports have also indicated that yoga, as an industry, is slouching toward monopoly. Consider Bikram Choudhury, a Calcutta native who oversees a multimillion-dollar American yoga empire. According to a 2012 Seattle Weekly story by Rebecca Moss, Choudhury had copyrighted his form of yoga, and has now sued his former student Greg Gumucio — who offers hot-yoga classes for $8, whereas Bikram Yoga charges at least $15.
If nothing else, the $8 fee shows that there are market players who can offer yoga that’s more affordable, and hence more accessible — which might get more Americans to practice daily, as is more common in India. It isn’t hard to imagine how inexpensive a conventional yoga class could be, if we could go back to the basics and practice yoga the way its founders practiced it.
Tomorrow: Yoga more like its founders' version
First in a three-part series by Ruchika Rai
When I arrived in the U.S. last June, the first thing that fascinated and appalled me at the same time was this rampant brand of blatant consumerism. Not that I didn’t enjoy spending four hours window-shopping in Giant Eagle; it was a mind-numbing rush looking at tens of brands for something as basic as eggs or butter.
However, my austere upbringing back in India had sharpened my senses to this kind of pleasure. “What’s too good to be true is most probably an impending disaster,” opined my sixth sense, a voice that was soon debilitated by the other five senses.
However, nothing piqued my interest more than the practice of yoga in this country. In India, yoga is an integral part of Hindu culture and religion, more like a religious ritual for the body, like chanting slokas (prayers) for the mind/gods. It is also a community thing — something that everyone can afford because more than your ability to pay, yoga is about the ability to save yourself from disillusionment by worldly traps.
But now I am in Pittsburgh and here for good. After satiating myself with newfound recipes like hot dog (with extra mayo), burgers (and large fries), and fruit smoothies, I started to ponder a reliable fitness regime.
I went online and typed “yoga in Pittsburgh.” Yoga, it seems, has become as commercialized and transformed as as everything else by the ethic of consumer choice. There were some hilarious versions like black yoga (blaring death metal — so much for peace of mind), mommy-and-me yoga (for new mothers) and chakra yoga. (The latter sounds to me like an effort to process yoga — isolating one of its essential components for immediate results, perhaps.)
However, nothing caught my attention more than hot yoga, which is much popular amongst yoga enthusiasts in the city. I had already received recommendations from two of my friends about this particular form of yoga. By divine intervention I also happened to find a Groupon deal for two-month trial classes, priced at a feasible $40. Without wasting another day I booked myself a coupon and landed up at the yoga studio.
Tomorrow: Hot Yoga
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