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Pennsylvania is trying to get more than 600k uninsured residents to sign up for health insurance

Matt Rourke

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Zachary Sherman, executive director of Pennie, the state’s insurance exchange, explains how the American Rescue Plan has significantly reduced the cost of health care for those who can enroll via Pennie this year; one reporter’s investigation into school board campaigns found access to campaign finance disclosures varies widely by county in the commonwealth; and we hear from the plaintiffs in a trial going to court Friday that calls into question how the state funds public schools.

Pennie executive director Zachary Sherman says more people than ever qualify for low-cost health care coverage, thanks to the American Rescue Plan
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For citizens without employer-based health insurance, open enrollment via the Pennsylvania Insurance Exchange, or “Pennie,” has begun.

People under age 65 who don’t qualify for Medicare or Medicaid are also eligible for coverage.

“As of 2019, the most recent data we have, over 5.5% of the commonwealth is still uninsured,” says Zachary Sherman, executive director of Pennie. “Over 600,000 Pennsylvanians uninsured, we think about half of them should be eligible for the financial assistance we provide.”

Sherman says about 330,000 Pennsylvanians are enrolled through Pennie, but he hopes to reach more.

Pennsylvania is one of 14 states, plus Washington, D.C., that have state-based marketplaces, instead of relying on the federally-run marketplace.

“We paid nearly $100 million in 2018 for, we’re running Pennie for about half that and the savings we are taking and investing in the affordability program, which is reducing the cost of health insurance for what it would have been had we just stayed with,” says Sherman.

The American Rescue Plan helped reduce the cost of health care plans this year. Sherman says some people can access higher-quality coverage at lower prices than previous years.

“We have online tools that help people filter and sort their plan options based on what's most important to them,” including cost and providers, says Sherman. “For people who have questions, they want to talk through something with a human, we have a dedicated call center, they work for the individual, not for insurers, … you can do the whole process over the phone.”

Pennsylvanians have until Jan. 15 to sign up.

Campaign finance filings for school board candidates are hard to find, depending on what county you’re in
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Voters selected public officials at the statewide and municipal level earlier this month. And while they might have gone to the ballot box with a wide array of information, gathering campaign finance disclosures might have been a more arduous process.

“The easiest races to find finance documents for are state races, ... the Department of State holds all of those documents, and they hold them on an online database,” says SpotlightPA reporter Ethan Edward Coston.

Candidates who run for more regional seats file campaign finance reports to the county they’re in, and those documents can be much more difficult to obtain because each county manages its own process.

“Philadelphia had the easiest process when I was looking for records,” says Coston. Philadelphia, like the Department of State, keeps records accessible online. “Montgomery County is one of those counties where you have to go in-person [to obtain records]. … They require that you send them a list of the candidates and committees you want records for in advance, and then after that you have to send them a time that you wanted to go in so you can view the records, and then if you want copies, you have to pay for those.”

Coston says he looked into school board elections specifically to understand what political action committees were pouring money into these typically hyperlocal races.

“I think access is important because you deserve to know who your candidates are being funded by,” says Coston. “If there are big special interests spending on an election, and one of your candidates is making a bunch of money from a national or statewide PAC, my question would be, why are people so interested in this election?”

Coston says sometimes campaign finance reports can also reveal whether choices and votes elected officials make align with their campaign funders.

Lawsuit over education funding is finally going to court
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It is a trial seven years in the making, with decades of history behind it.

This Friday, a group of education advocates in Pennsylvania will get their long-awaited day in court. They’re suing the state over how it funds public schools.

Keystone Crossroads’ Avi Wolfman-Arent reports on the case’s complicated past, and its potentially transformative future.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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