Five Years After Obamacare, Charity Care Demand Soars

MARCH 23, 2015  | by ELIZABETH STELLE

Five years later, the promises of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ring hollow for too many Pennsylvanians. The law’s numerous mandates and regulations continue to drive up the cost of health insurance, pricing needy Pennsylvanians out of the market for insurance. The Community Volunteers in Medicine (CVIM) clinic in West Chester recounts one story.

Last week, we had a 60 year old man that said his ACA premium went from $2 a month to $252 a month, explains a volunteer clinician at CVIM. Due to financial hardship he and his wife are filing bankruptcy and had to drop their ACA plan. As they work to regain their financial independence, they find comfort in knowing they can receive free healthcare at CVIM.

CVIM is one of dozens of free clinics stepping up to provide free medical and dental services to Pennsylvanians in need.

Free clinics are an essential and effective part of the safety net. The ACA attempts to serve low-income Pennsylvanians through Medicaid expansion, but that system is disjointed and difficult to navigate. On the other hand, charity clinics have the freedom and flexibility to provide coordinated high quality care in a welcoming and encouraging environment.

Chris, a patient of the Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center in Pittsburgh notes,

The volunteers have always made us feel welcomed and as if we mattered. That means a lot. When you’ve been down on your luck, your self-esteem and confidence gets buried, and you feel as if you’re not worthy. The volunteers at Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center have made us feel worthy.

Free clinics are especially well equipped to serve people with chronic conditions that often prevent individuals from working and keep them trapped in the cycle of poverty.

Consider Violet’s experience. For a long time, Violet (pictured above) woke up each morning feeling dizzy, achy, and fatigued. She began to believe that her symptoms were normal for a woman of her age.

Violet explained her symptoms to her dentist. Already aware that she did not have medical insurance, her dentist suggested that Violet look into visiting Community Volunteers in Medicine. Upon visiting CVIM, the attending physician quickly learned that her blood sugar level was in the 700s, normal is 80 to 100. Violent was rushed to the hospital and diagnosed with diabetes.

Violet and the CVIM staff created an individualized plan to control her diabetes. Violet says,

Betty encouraged me to attend the nutrition and diabetes education classes, which I did. I knew that I could not do this on my own, and that CVIM could give me the tools I needed. I still use the amazing recipes that Betty so kindly gave to me to this day.

With her diabetes under control, Violet returned to work fulltime and received medical insurance. Recently, Violet visited CVIM and shared that she has lost a total of 53 pounds. Violet says, “I am so blessed that I was able to come into the helping hands of CVIM.”

Violet’s success story is hardly unique for free clinics. Augustus was unemployed, uninsured, and suffering from high blood pressure when he came to the Pittsburgh Catholic Charities Free Health Care Center. During his exam, the volunteer physician also noticed a severe infection in Augustus’ mouth that was potentially life-threatening. That same day, Augustus was seen by a volunteer dentist who recommended that Augustus have all of his teeth extracted. Volunteer oral surgery residents from Allegheny General Hospital removed Augustus’ teeth successfully and eliminated the infection. But the clinic did more than restore Augustus’s health.

Once his gums healed, Augustus received a brand new smile—full-mouth dentures. Thanks to his improved health and the help of Catholic Charities’ Team HOPE staff, Augustus found a new job and health insurance.

While the debate over the fate of the ACA rages on in Washington, the demand for free clinics continues to rise. The National Association for Free and Charitable Clinics claims a 40 percent bump in patient demand since 2012. That’s a strong case for Pennsylvania lawmakers to protect this vibrant private safety net that delivers quality care to our most vulnerable residents.


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A Broken Promise Could Break the Bank

MARCH 20, 2015  | by BOB DICK

During the gubernatorial campaign, Tom Wolf promised not to raise taxes on middle class Pennsylvanians. Despite this promise, the governor proposed a budget including the largest tax increase in the commonwealth’s history—a tax increase sure to hit Pennsylvanians of all income levels.

Under Gov. Wolf’s plan, taxes on income, sales, energy, tobacco, banks, and lottery winners would soar. Additionally, Gov. Wolf plans not only to increase the sales tax, but expand the list of items taxed under the higher rate.

To illustrate how Gov. Wolf’s proposal would leave Pennsylvanians with less, we applied his 6.6 percent sales tax increase to a fraction of the 45 newly taxed items under his plan. A single mother sending her child to daycare, a senior, like Kermit Bell’s mother, who relies on home care for her dementia, and a college student trying to further his or her education will all be hit under this sales tax increase.

Here are just five scenarios whereby Pennsylvanians could pay more to cover the gigantic increases in state spending:

Here is a list of the goods and services that would now be taxed under Gov. Wolf's proposal, as outlined by the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue:

Motion and Video Pictures

Financial Investment Activities

Real Estate Agent and Broker Services

Employment Services

Business Support Services

Travel Arrangement Services

Other Support, Office Administrative,

and Facilities Support

Waste Collection

Higher Education

Home Health Care Services

Other Ambulatory Health Care Services

Nursing and Residential Care Facilities

Social Assistance

Performing Arts

Transportation

Spectator Sports

Museums, Historical Sites, and

Similar Institutions

Amusement and Recreation Industries

Recreational Vehicle Parks and Camps

Personal Care Services

Death Care Services

Dry-cleaning and Laundry Services

Other Personal Services

Legal Services

Accounting Services

Specialized Design Services

Scientific Research and Development Services

Advertising Services

Professional Services, Architectural, Computer

Candy & Gum

Personal Hygiene Products

Newspapers

Magazines

Non-prescription drugs

Caskets & Burial Vaults

Flags

Textbooks

Catalogs & Direct Mail Advertising

Airline Catering

Commission

Horses

Construction of Memorials

Uniform Commerical Code Filing Fees

Investment Metal Bullion and Gold

Cable Television


While the governor insists property tax relief would ease the burden of his tax increases, the relief would not arrive until a year after the tax increases kick in, if at all. This sales tax increase and expansion is projected to take $1.6 billion out of the private economy next year and nearly $4 billion per year when fully implemented.

In addition to stunting economic growth, this tax increase would directly affect the standard of living for Pennsylvanians, as a larger percentage of their incomes would be devoted to paying higher taxes, leaving fewer dollars for their own needs.

This isn’t what Gov. Wolf promised during the campaign.


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Pennsylvania's Charter Law: Room to Improve

MARCH 18, 2015  | by JAMES PAUL, LINDSEY WANNER

Pennsylvania’s charter school law received its 2015 report card, and unfortunately it will not earn a place on the refrigerator. The commonwealth earned a “C” grade from the Center for Education Reform (CER), an organization that ranks charter laws across the country.

Each state is evaluated on the following criteria:

  • The existence of independent and/or multiple authorizers
  • The number of charter schools permitted
  • Operational and fiscal autonomy from existing state and district mandates
  • Equitable funding

Pennsylvania received 28.5 out of 55 points, which amounts to 18th place out of the 43 states that allow charter schools. Overall, the commonwealth’s charter law has room to improve.  

According to CER, the lack of independent authorizers is Pennsylvania’s biggest shortcoming. A stronger law would allow universities or a statewide body to approve new brick-and-mortar charter schools. The Commonwealth also loses points for inadequate access to facilities funding. On the other hand, Pennsylvania performed fairly well when it comes to autonomy from regulations and mandates.

Policymakers should consider these findings as they consider reforms to Pennsylvania’s charter school law. Continuing to strengthen the charter sector will be an enormous benefit to thousands of students and families clamoring for expanded educational opportunity. 


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Protecting Pennsylvania's Excellent Teachers

MARCH 18, 2015  | by ELIZABETH STELLE

Shortly after graduation, Dominique took a job at one of Philadelphia’s most challenging turnaround high schools, University City. After one very successful year the district experienced significant layoffs and she saw many of her young colleagues—including one who had won a city distinguished teaching award—laid off. Dominique was so disheartened by the experience that she left University City.

Yesterday, Senator Ryan Aument and Representative Stephen Bloom introduced legislation to ensure that furlough decisions are based on actual job-performance, not simply years in the classroom.

Seniority rules mandate that teachers be placed and furloughed simply according to their years in the system, not how effective they are at instructing students. This results in the best teachers being left out in the cold, while those who are less effective, but longer tenured, are protected.

Rep. Bloom explains how seniority mandates are particularly harmful to low-income students:

Moreover, seniority-based layoffs disproportionately impact low-income and minority students. Schools serving primarily low-income and minority families often have higher concentrations of new teachers than more affluent schools. When seniority-based layoffs occur, these schools experience higher teacher turnover and lose many more faculty compared to other schools.

Favoring seniority over performance punishes the best teachers, not to mention the children in each classroom. Even one child deprived of a first-rate teacher is one child too many. 


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Education-Industrial Complex Strikes Again

MARCH 16, 2015  | by JAMES PAUL

Much has been made of recent comments from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan regarding school funding in Pennsylvania. According to Duncan, Pennsylvania's families are “being shortchanged when it comes to state and local education funding.”

Several observers pounced on these remarks—particularly the notion that Pennsylvania per-pupil spending in low-income districts is one-third less than in wealthy districts—and used them as justification for higher taxes and greater school spending.

Is it true that Pennsylvania’s low-income students are underfunded? Let’s examine the facts.

Duncan’s comments are based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which organizes school districts into quartiles of family income: low poverty, low-middle poverty, high-middle poverty, and high poverty. (Note that NCES figures exclude costs for construction and debt, as well as federal funds).

In each quartile—even among high poverty districts—Pennsylvania exceeds the national average in spending per student. Put another way: the vast majority of schools in the commonwealth are overfunded. It just so happens that Pennsylvania’s richest districts are particularly overfunded, while low-income districts are slightly overfunded.

Current Education Expenditures, Per-Pupil, 2011-12

Low Poverty

Districts

Low-Middle Poverty

Districts

High-Middle Poverty

Districts

High Poverty

Districts

Pennsylvania $12,529 $11,111 $11,069 $9,387
National Average $10,721 $8,804 $8,040 $9,270

The key takeaway from NCES is that affluent Pennsylvania districts raise enormous levels of local taxes to fund their public schools. Hypothetically, the discrepancy in district level spending could be eliminated by capping the local effort in high-income districts. This would make Pennsylvania’s schools appear more “equal,” but it wouldn’t result in better academic performance—nor would it direct more funding to low-income districts.

As Jason Bedrick from the Cato Institute recently explained, the education-industrial complex incessantly lobbies for higher school taxes regardless of student outcomes or fiscal reality. Given that Pennsylvania's schools are better funded than the national average but produce middling achievement, perhaps it’s time to consider other education reforms. 

At the state level, reform should include weighted student funding. This revenue neutral approach offers a more rational, transparent school funding mechanism. At the same time, Pennsylvania should protect and reward its most effective teachers, while expanding school choice for families trapped in persistently failing public schools.


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The Case for More Educational Choice in Philadelphia

MARCH 13, 2015  | by ELIZABETH STELLE, JAMES PAUL

Will’s family thought he was one of the chosen few: A Philadelphia student who managed to secure a seat at the high-performing Christopher Columbus Charter School. But something wasn’t right. He struggled with reading and did not enjoy school. With each passing day, it became clear to his mother, Elizabeth, that he needed a different approach to learning.

That’s where Philadelphia Classical School (PCS) fills a void. At PCS students are more than readers and writers. They are musicians and artists, too. The arts aren't merely enrichment; they are incorporated into the curriculum from the earliest grades. That’s not to say traditional learning is de-emphasized: For students in kindergarten through second grade, reading is emphasized above other homework assignments.

PCS Will

The classical approach is precisely what Will needed when he came to PCS as a second grader. The curriculum and support structure at PCS changed everything. After enrolling, Will’s reading level improved and he loves to write stories, according to Elizabeth.

The decision to enroll at PCS was not easy. Will’s father teaches at a public school and his family values the public education system, but Will needed a school suited to his individual needs. Elizabeth is thrilled with the quality at PCS. She explains, “PCS cares about life learning.” Elizabeth’s younger son, a kindergartner named Gavin, also enrolled at the school.

Although the classical approach is steeped in history and tradition, it represents a unique educational choice. PCS is the only classical school in Philadelphia, and it serves as a lifeline for dozens of families unsatisfied with their neighborhood options.

Jessica, mother of current PCS student Arabella, looked into private school because she was concerned about safety in their assigned public school, Alexander Adaire. “I wanted to be 100 percent comfortable with safety. I would be terrified to send Arabella to Adaire. It wasn’t an option.” Philadelphia District schools reported nearly 2,500 violent incidents in 2014.

Before learning about PCS, Arabella languished on the waiting list at eight different charter schools. Jessica explains, “Without PCS, we would have to move to the suburbs. Every year many of my friends move out and we did not want to be like that.”

Without the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program, schools like PCS would be out of reach for Will, Gavin and Arabella. Each student benefits from the EITC, a linchpin of school choice in Pennsylvania which allows businesses to contribute private scholarships in exchange for tax credits.

Another unique characteristic of PCS? It leases space in a shared building with the Chinese Christian Church and Center. This means that on Friday afternoon, many classrooms are disassembled to make room for the church’s weekend activities. PCS intends to expand to its own space with the help of generous philanthropists. For the time being, though, the shared space suits PCS just fine—it stands as a testament to school’s entrepreneurial spirit, community focus, and the appetite for expanded choice in the city.


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Alternative Energy: The Promise That Never Pans Out

MARCH 13, 2015  | by ELIZABETH STELLE

Green jobs and the broken window fallacy

One third of the $675 million in new corporate welfare under Governor's Wolf budget proposal is reserved for alternative energy programs. In this week's House budget hearings Community & Economic Development Secretary Dennis Davin defended the new borrowing saying,“We think when you look at those opportunities as a whole ... Pennsylvania will do much better.”

But history indicates otherwise.

A common target of Gov. Rendell's "economic development" schemes was alternative energy companies, who enjoyed $1 billion in renewable energy grants, tax breaks and loans, but only created 8,300 "green" jobs, costing taxpayers over $120,000 per job. In other words, using tax dollars to subsidize green jobs resulted in a net loss.

Worse yet, taxpayers don't have the funds for this program. The Governor wants to borrow the money and pay it back with natural gas severance tax revenues.

Even if placing more debt on Pennsylvania families created jobs, it is still wrong to ask the natural gas industry to subsidize their competitors. Kevin Sunday with the PA Chamber put it well, "It's very ironic that Gov. Wolf expects one industry to subsidize its competitors," he said. "We certainly shouldn't be picking winners and losers."

At the end of the day, Pennsylvania has given more than a billion dollars to alternative energy companies with nothing to show for it: from 1991 to 2014, our state ranked a dismal 45th in job growth. Handing out tax dollars based on political calculations is stifling economic progress. Common sense tells us it's time to try a different approach—letting Pennsylvanians keep more of their money.


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Wolf's Tax Plan: Three Things Every Family Needs to Know

MARCH 12, 2015  | by NATHAN BENEFIELD

Here are three things to know about Gov. Wolf's proposed tax plan:

  1. Wolf's budget calls for a net tax increase of about $1,400 more per family of four this year (with $0 in property tax rebates), and $1,400 next year (a $2,500 increase in state taxes with about $1,100 in property tax rebates).
  2. Under Wolf's plan there will be no property tax "relief" until October 2016, and it won't prevent future property tax increases.
  3. Only 30 cents of every dollar in new state taxes over the next two years would be redistributed to school districts for property tax rebates.

A thorough reader pointed out that our analysis of Gov. Tom Wolf's proposed tax increases had double-counted tax refunds (the amount the state returns to taxpayers who overpaid).

As a result, we underreported the impact of Wolf's tax plan. In fact, the net increase for next fiscal year is $1,425 per family of four, slightly more than our previous estimate.

Proposed Tax Changes in Gov. Wolf's Budget (Totals in Thousands)
2015-16 2016-17 Two Year Total
Total State Tax Increases $4,554,600 $8,053,000 $12,607,600
Property Tax Rebates $0 ($3,666,000) ($3,666,000)
State Tax Increases Less Property Tax Relief $4,554,600 $4,387,000 $8,941,600
Net Tax Increase Per Family of Four $1,424.73 $1,372.31 $2,797.04

For a more detailed look at Governor Wolf's budget proposal, read our latest policy memo.


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Audio: Governor Wolf's Big, Bad Budget

MARCH 11, 2015  | by JONATHAN REGINELLA

Gov. Wolf’s budget plan spends taxpayers’ money at $1,000 per second and would burden a family of four with an additional $1,419 in taxes at a time when Pennsylvanians already face one of the highest tax burdens in the nation.

CF’s President & CEO Matt Brouillette spoke with radio host Chris Stigall on WPHT’s Morning Show about the truth behind Gov. Wolf’s budget.

Matt sheds some light on the details of Wolf’s property tax rebates—which don’t go into effect until 2016-17, though tax increases would be in place for 2015-16. Beyond that, there’s nothing stopping property taxes from continuing to climb in the future.

Gov. Wolf’s tax increases, as Matt points out, also create an uninviting environment for potential business moving into Pennsylvania. His budget would ensure Pennsylvania continues to see some of the country’s lowest rates in job, income, and population growth. 

Listen for more of Matt’s insight on Gov. Wolf’s budget plan:

The Chris Stigall Show airs daily on WPHT Talk Radio 1210 in the Philadelphia area.

Follow Commonwealth Foundation’s SoundCloud stream for more of our audio content.

And for mobile listening, get the SoundCloud iPhone and Android apps.


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Families Benefit from Natural Gas Without Tax

MARCH 10, 2015  | by GORDON TOMB

Of the many tax hikes in Gov. Wolf's  budget proposal, the natural gas severance tax on the surface seems less damaging to Pennsylvania families. But a severance tax could hit families in a very personal way, their natural gas bill.

For now, Lancaster OnLine reports that the average residential heating bill of UGI Utilities’ customers has dropped nearly 46 percent since 2008. The latest reduction of 3.8 percent–attributed to abundant supplies of Marcellus Shale gas–was instituted March 1.

Stated in terms of dollars, the average monthly bill has gone from $151 to $82 in the past seven years for 391,000 customers in 15 counties.

Those are but the latest benefits added to the gas industry’s billions of dollars paid in wages, impact fees, leases, royalties, dividends and taxes – and just one more example of why state government should not hamper the industry with unnecessary levies such as the governor’s proposed severance tax.


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The Commonwealth Foundation is Pennsylvania's free-market think tank.  The Commonwealth Foundation transforms free-market ideas into public policies so all Pennsylvanians can flourish.