Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A great article on one of the bills we are pushing in Olympia

Yesterday we had a very successful Day of Activism in Olympia and met with over half of the state's legislators. In addition, two of our Activists, Dr. Eugene May and Lenita Fryxell, testified before the Senate's Health and Long Term Care Committee in favor of legislation that would put a cap on the out of pocket health care expenses. The bill received some great publicity on Q13 - check out this video and news article. The article features a boy with hemophilia - a condition that requires a lifetime of frequent doses of costly medication.

You can track the bill's progress here. In order to have a chance of passage, the bill will have to be voted out of the Senate's Health & Long Term Care Committee by the end of this week.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Off to Olympia we go!

The National MS Society will be headed to Olympia on Monday, January 30th for our annual Day of Activism. I thought I'd share a few thoughts on it before we go down there...

The National MS Society brings people together several times a year for a number of purposes. We come together to celebrate, to raise money for research, and to laugh and even cry together. We join together in celebration at 600 walks around the country, we unite 100,000 cyclists to raise money for a cure, and we come together every month to share our lives at over 40 self help groups just in Washington state.

When people join together, we can do some amazing things. We’ve raised over $686 million to fund research to stop the disease, restore lost function, and end MS forever. We’ve helped the 400,000 people living with MS to better understand their disease and we’ve reached out to the millions of friends, family members, and loved ones who have been affected by MS. In the Pacific Northwest, we’ve raised awareness about MS and now, because of our efforts, you’ll find that a LOT of people know that we have a higher incidence of MS here in the northwest than almost anywhere else in the country.

But for our Day of Activism, we have a different purpose. We come to Olympia because the MS community in Washington needs our help. And as we do in all our advocacy work, we stand united as the three chapters of the National MS Society with a presence in Washington – the Greater Northwest Chapter covering western and central Washington, the Inland Northwest Chapter covering eastern Washington, and the Oregon Chapter covering Vancouver and Clark County.

Due to state budget cuts over the past three years, at least 1800 people with MS have lost some of their health care benefits and unless we act, they will lose a lot more. Washington state is facing a $1.5 billion budget shortfall – and this is on top of the $12 billion shortfall that we’ve already dealt with in prior years.

The legislature is faced with some difficult choices and legislators don’t like the choices that they will have to make. With ¾ of the state’s budget spent on education, corrections, and health care, the cuts to be made won’t be popular. Our job is to tell legislators that the MS community can’t bear the burden of these cuts.

You and I know that MS is an expensive disease. It stops people from working, often in the prime of your life, and the treatments to stop the progression of MS aren’t cheap. Many people with MS rely on the safety net provided by state and federal taxpayers – Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security are no strangers to the MS community. When our elected officials need to make difficult decisions to balance the budget, it’s our job to remind them of the needs of voters in their communities and in every community, many of those voters have MS or have a loved one with MS.

We can reach out to legislators in a number of ways. We can send emails, write letters, make phone calls, but the best way to get your message across to anyone is a face to face meeting. And in a tough budget environment that our state is facing, it’s the people who shout the loudest and make the most compelling argument who are going to get heard. So we gather in Olympia to speak up and be heard.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Affordable Care Act – Do you know what it is doing for you already?

Not much has been said about the Affordable Care Act since its passage which baffles and saddens me. In my opinion, every member of Congress and the President should mention all of these benefits in every speech. There is much to be proud of in this piece of legislation. The Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but it’s a place to start in protecting Americans who do not have access to health insurance and those who are underinsured. So much has been implemented already and there is much more to come in 2014!

As of Sept 2010, these benefits have been implemented.

- Pre-Existing Insurance Plans (PCIP) offering coverage for previously uninsurable
- Lifetime caps eliminated
- A policyholder cannot be dropped from coverage because he/she becomes ill
- Annual out-of-pocket limits
- No co-pays for preventative services (vaccinations, mammogram, annual exams, etc…)
- No denials based on pre-existing conditions for children
- Adult children can maintain coverage on the parent’s plan until age 26
- 35% tax credit for small business to encourage employers to provide health insurance
- $250 rebate for Medicare recipients in the ‘donut hole’

What will the Affordable Care Act do for you in 2014?

- Eliminate discrimination due to pre-existing conditions
- Competitive health Insurance exchanges making health insurance available to all Americans
- Premium subsidies making health insurance affordable to individuals and families
- Expanded tax credits for small business to encourage employers to provide health insurance
- Medicare ‘donut hole’ eliminated

It’s now up to states to implement the center piece of the Affordable Care Act – health insurances exchanges - and the National MS Society is watching the creation of these exchanges closely to make sure they work for people with MS. The exchanges may be challenged by some legislators and candidates running for election in November. It is up to us to keep the pressure on our state and federal representatives so they know that this bill HELPS PEOPLE WITH MS. And we VOTE!

Have any of you directly benefited from the Affordable Care Act already? I know I have!

Please join us at the Day of Activism on January 30th in Olympia. Register at http://wasmain.nationalmssociety.org/site/Calendar?id=270894&view=Detail

Remember – It’s Time for Action! Washington

Thursday, January 12, 2012

High risk health insurance pool spending money faster than expected | The Republic

High risk health insurance pool spending money faster than expected | The Republic

Montana's high risk pool, like that of other states, serves many people with MS who can't get health care elsewhere due to their pre-existing condition. These programs, usually partially funded by assessments on insurance companies and tax subsidies, provide a valuable service to the MS community. Even with these subsidies, high risk pool premiums are very expensive and contribute to the high cost of health care for people with MS. With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, we expect to see an end to these high risk pools as their members will soon be able to get affordable health insurance in the open market. Until then, we need to continue to fund these programs in every state.

Learn more about the high risk pool in your state:

Alaska Comprehensive Health Association
Montana Comprehensive Health Association
Washington State Health Insurance Pool

The Affordable Care Act provides additional funding to states to expand their high risk pools, allowing more people to access health insurance. If you've been without health insurance for more than 6 months and been denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition, you may be eligible. Follow the above links to learn more.

Strong advocacy efforts from groups like the National MS Society led to the creation of high risk pools and we've been active in efforts to keep the programs focused on people with MS and other chronic disease. In 2011, Montana's Government Relations Committee supported legislation to make it cheaper and easier for Montana residents to access the high risk pool. This was only possible due to the efforts of our volunteers in Montana. If you want to help out with similar efforts, let us know.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Do you live in Seattle and have an interest in accessibility?

From the City of Seattle:

Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board seeks new members

SEATTLE—The Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board is accepting applications for new members to help make walking in Seattle safer and easier. The volunteer board, which was created by Seattle City Council in 1993, plays an influential role in implementing Seattle’s Pedestrian Master Plan. The board advises the Mayor and City Council, participates in planning and project development, evaluates policies and makes recommendations to all city departments including the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).

Board members serve a two‐year term, with an opportunity to serve a second term. They are frequent walkers of a variety of ages, levels of mobility, and walks of life, and from areas throughout the city. Members must be Seattle residents, and may not be city employees. The group meets the second Wednesday of each month from 6 to 8 p.m. at City Hall on Fifth Avenue between James and Cherry.

According to Jon Morgan, chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Board “"Everyone is a pedestrian, and serving on the Pedestrian Advisory Board is a great way to make a difference in Seattle's walkability. Members have a chance to learn a lot about walking and what's going on in the city, and to apply that knowledge working with other smart, dedicated, interesting pedestrian advocates."

Mayor McGinn and City Council are committed to promoting diversity in the City's boards and commissions. Women, youth, persons with disabilities, sexual minorities, and persons of color are encouraged to apply. Interested persons should submit a resume and cover letter explaining their interest via email by January 20, 2012 to Brian Dougherty at brian.dougherty@seattle.gov.

For more information, call Brian Dougherty at (206) 684‐5124, or send e‐mail to the address above

State legislators will be meeting with the MS community on January 30, will you be there?

The MS community is coming together in Olympia on January 30 to share our voices with state legislators and we want you to join us. This is the day for us to bring the stories of people living with multiple sclerosis to our state's elected officials, reminding them of the responsibility they have to meet the needs of our citizens, especially those with MS.

Sign up online or call 1-800-344-4867.

Please mark your calendar and make plans to attend this important day. If you haven't joined us for a Day of Activism in the past, or want to learn more about the issues we will discuss with legislators, we ask that you also participate in a conference call on Tuesday, January 17.

People with MS are at risk of losing health care benefits and we need to show up in order to convince legislators that they shouldn't be balancing the budget on the backs of people with MS and other disabilities. If we aren't talking with our legislators, the needs of the MS community won't be heard.
Sign up to join us in Olympia

For those who want to help, but cannot attend, we still want to hear from you. We are collecting stories from people in the MS community to share with legislators and we need your story. Tell us what you think legislators need to hear about your life with MS. Your short, 100 hundred word message to your legislators will support the efforts of all those who will be there in person. We know not everyone can travel to Olympia and there are powerful stories out there – make sure your thoughts are heard!

We look forward to seeing you in Olympia!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Do we really have to cut, cut, cut?

As we are recovering from our holiday season and getting ready to ring in the New Year, the Washington State legislature is gearing up for the session starting in January. We know, based on the last few years and the special session, that the legislature must close a huge budget gap. But how? We, in the MS community, know how important all of the programs that end up on the chopping block are to people with MS and other illnesses and disabilities.

We all know that the Governor has proposed a sales tax increase. But is that the best solution to the budget crisis? Sales tax is a regressive tax that adversely affects lower income Washingtonians, and in turn, many in our community who are unable to work and are considered low income. Are there other options? A group called Economic Opportunity Institute has prepared an analysis of several options that the state has in order to help close the budget gap http://www.eoionline.org/tax_reform/reports/2BillioninProgressiveRevenues-Dec2011.pdf . Some suggestions are easier to swallow than others; however, this demonstrates that there are other options besides cut, cut, cut.

In order to support the necessary and successful social safety net that Washington has established, we must find a way to pay for it. Without programs like Basic Health, Disability Lifeline, Medicaid, and so many other vital programs that give a hand up to Washingtonians in need, the social and economic costs to our state will escalate!

What do you think of these ideas? Do you have additional suggestions for the legislature? Maybe you think that the cuts are ok – please let our community know why.

Remember to register for the 2012 Day of Activism on January 30th. http://wasmain.nationalmssociety.org/site/Calendar?id=270894&view=Detail
This is our opportunity to have our voices heard!

It’s Time for Action! Washington

Happy New Year! - Holly