State Insurance Regulators Deny Ratepayers Public Hearing on Highmark Rate Hike

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By Athena Ford, Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN)
Originally published October 19, 2011 on the PHAN Blog

Thousands of activists with the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) sent emails, signed petitions, called and showed up in person to ask the Pennsylvania Insurance Department for a real, public investigation into Highmark's proposed rate hike on the Special Care plan. But this week the department approved the increase, without holding a hearing.

Special Care is a limited benefit plan offered by the state's Blue Cross/Blue Shield providers. It was touted as an alternative when the Corbett administration ended the adultBasic health insurance program in February.

Losing the PA Advantage as Unemployment Rate Climbs

I put out a media statement today on Pennsylvania's September jobs report, which showed the state's unemployment rate has risen to 8.5 percent.

“The number of jobs in Pennsylvania fell by 15,800 in September, over half of which was a 8,300 drop in government jobs. In another troubling indicator, the number of manufacturing jobs in the state fell for the first time in 10 months, a further sign that declines in public-sector employment are dragging down the private economy.

"Since May, the Pennsylvania unemployment rate has increased by nearly a percentage point, from 7.4 percent to 8.3 percent, while the U.S. unemployment rate has held steady at 9.1 percent. While the difference between the U.S. and state unemployment rates — the ‘Pennsylvania Advantage’ — fluctuates a lot on a month-to-month basis, this gap has been smaller than the current 0.8% in only one month since 2009.

"The September report demonstrates yet again that Pennsylvania and the nation need a jobs plan. Policymakers have been sitting on their hands for the past two years and Pennsylvania families are paying the price."

Morning Must Reads: Budget Cuts and Layoffs

Later today, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry will release the state's September job numbers. The Philadelphia Federal Reserve is forecasting (PDF) the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania will rise a tenth of a percentage point to 8.3% in September. If that forecast holds up, the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania will have risen by nine-tenths of a percentage point since May. Based on this morning's headlines, we can expect more bad news in the months ahead.

Philadelphia-based Checkpoint Systems Inc. announced plans to expand a restructuring program to cut expenses and jobs.

The maker of anti-theft devices for retail chains said its new plans would affect 1,000 existing employees, up from the 204 in its original scheme. Checkpoint said it had 'already taken steps to eliminate three senior executive positions' and intends to 'aggressively take out layers of management.'

In addition, Checkpoint plans to close four production facilities, but did not specify where in its news release.

While job creation in the private sector remains weak, the public sector continues to make the problem worse mostly by punishing the most vulnerable in our society.   

Morning Must Reads: Yes Bridges Need Repair & Little Old Ladies Are Homeless But Ask Yourself Have We Really Done Enough for the Top 1%?

With unemployment in the construction industry at record highs, interest rates low and a deep backlog of thousands of structurally deficient bridges in need of repair, now is a great time to spend money to fix stuff do nothing!

Actually, it is not really that bad; it's worse. The Pennsylvania Legislature is spending time debating changes to the state's prevailing wage statute, even though a large body of empirical research demonstrates that changes to prevailing wage laws do not lower construction costs.  Anyway, if you find yourself in Pittsburgh, make sure your car seat also doubles as a floatation device.

Don't Want to Give Gas Drillers a Free Pass? Sign Our Letter to Lawmakers

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Any doubt about the level of public concern over Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania should be put to rest by the turnout at a series of citizens hearings over the past six weeks. Hundreds came out to testify about the impacts of drilling in their communities at hearings held by the Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission in Williamsport, Towanda, Philadelphia, suburban Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.

Morning Must Reads: Accountability in the Private and Public Sector or Making Money the Old Fashioned Way

While cruising by Allentown on I-78 with Billy Joel's greatest hits blaring on your stereo, you may have noticed just along the highway a big sign for the camera maker Olympus. Turns out the North American headquarters for the Olympus Corporation of the Americas is located in Allentown. The Allentown Morning Call reported Friday that the CEO of the parent company has been dismissed. Businessweek is reporting this morning there is more to the story:

Fired Olympus Corp. President Michael C. Woodford said he met with the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office to request an investigation of payments made by the Japanese company to advisers in a 2008 acquisition ...

Olympus ... paid $687 million to two advisory companies related to its purchase of Gyrus Group Plc in 2008, the PwC report said. The fees were more than a third of the $2 billion purchase price, according to the report. Merger and acquisition advisory fees usually range from 1 percent to 5 percent.

As the Allentown Morning Call reported on Friday, the company had been seeking to aggressively cut costs via an undisclosed number of layoffs in Allentown over the summer. 

Two words. 

Job creators?

Rather than lay off workers while paying fat fees to "advisers," The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning reports on an emerging approach to job creation, spending money to fix things!

New York Times on Marcellus Shale: With Growth Comes Problems

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In a recent article examining the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania, The New York Times asked me to put the state's tax policy on gas drilling in perspective. I explained that drilling isn't producing the tax revenue needed to address the significant impacts of drilling or to support shared state priorities. Check out the article.

Morning Must Reads: Bailouts for the Banks and Cake for the 99%

What is good for the financial sector is good for the 99% 1%.

For the financialization of America wasn’t dictated by the invisible hand of the market. What caused the financial industry to grow much faster than the rest of the economy starting around 1980 was a series of deliberate policy choices, in particular a process of deregulation that continued right up to the eve of the 2008 crisis. Not coincidentally, the era of an ever-growing financial industry was also an era of ever-growing inequality of income and wealth. Wall Street made a large direct contribution to economic polarization, because soaring incomes in finance accounted for a significant fraction of the rising share of the top 1 percent (and the top 0.1 percent, which accounts for most of the top 1 percent’s gains) in the nation’s income. More broadly, the same political forces that promoted financial deregulation fostered overall inequality in a variety of ways, undermining organized labor, doing away with the 'outrage constraint' that used to limit executive paychecks, and more.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reviews employment law in Pennsylvania and notes that there are two sets of rules, the rules for the rest of us (we are employed at will and rarely get a severance) and the rules for top executives.

Third and State This Week: Gloomy Economic News, Trade Agreements and Tracking Salaries

This week, we blogged about the need for a jobs plan, an effort to make labor markets more transparent, and the negligible effect the recently passed trade agreements will have on reducing joblessness. Plus, the Friday Funny is back, with the warm words of everybody's favorite CEO, T. Herman Zweibel (extra points, if you know who that is without looking him up).


  • On the recession and recovery, Mark Price addressed a Patriot-News editorial that calls for passage of the American Jobs Act but misstates the important impact that the Recovery Act of 2009 had on turning the free-falling economy around. Mark also blogged about some of the awkward facts that make it difficult to root for GE and other multinationals.
  • On unemployment and the economy, Mark compared a poll performed by the Mercyhurst College Center for Applied Politics with labor analysis done by the Keystone Research Center — both finding that roughly 1 in 4 Pennsylvania residents have had less paid work than they wanted during the last 12 months.
  • In other economic news, Mark blogged about Congress' failure to address the lack of consumer demand that is keeping unemployment high and its passage of a free trade agreement that will have a negligible impact on U.S. employment.
  • On wages and the workplace, Chris Lilienthal blogged about an online project aimed at creating a more transparent labor market. You can share and compare salaries and wages, understand your rights on the job, and look up the salaries of politicians, CEOs, athletes, and Hollywood stars.
  • Lastly, a bit of humor after a gloomy news week. Chris shared some satire from The Onion's publisher emeritus, T. Herman Zweibel, who is shocked that his repeatedly mistreated employees are in disbelief that he would move their offices to the Yukon.

More blog posts next week. Keep us bookmarked and join the conversation!

Friday Funny: Happiness Among Employees No Less than Mutiny

Long a fan of The Onion, I pass on the wise words of T. Herman Zweibel, Publisher Emeritus, for your Friday Funny.

Quite disturbed by reports of "the murmur of pleasant conversation and, in many cases, outright laughter among staffers," Herman sets out at once to stifle this "foul cancer known to some pansy-sniffing modern types as High Morale." In the name of cost-cutting, Herman arranages to have the staff and operations of the newspaper relocated to the Yukon. Not that there are real money troubles, of course. As Herman notes: "[O]ur coffers are swollen as ticks, making them too expensive to move; no, they shall stay here with me."

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