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My name is Carla Christopher and I live in the heart of York City, where I spend most of my days taking calls from people who need help finding healthcare they can afford. When my phone rang today though, it wasn't from a stranger or an acquaintance. It was from mother, a hardworking retired teacher now living with Stage 3 Kidney Disease.

She is trying to figure out how to buy food, pay the electricity bill, and afford her medications. The co-pay for her blood tests to check the life endangering toxins in her blood has now been raised to $20. The kidney specialist visit to go over the results is now $45. Her medications are $15 a month and she takes eight prescriptions to manage her condition. Every one of these prices is higher than it was just a year or two ago.

There are a lot of retirees paying insurance premiums from a fixed income, or if they are lucky enough to have some, out of their savings. And single parents paying rent and saving up for school uniforms before August. And part-time students working a minimum-wage job and taking classes at HACC, trying to work toward a better life.

These "reasonable" rate increases requested by insurance companies and voted on each year by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department might feel reasonable in an air conditioned, carpeted board room. They feel very different to people like my mom, like me, Pennsylvanians living in working class neighborhoods and trying to decide on a Highmark Plan slated to go up 48 percent or a Geisinger Plan going up only 40 percent.

With the Census Bureau saying that half of Americans live at or near the poverty line, it seems clear that enough is enough. We need to speak up and make our voices heard. Healthcare is a human right, and no Pennsylvanian should have to choose between medications and food.

There is another round of proposed rate increases on ACA marketplace plans on the table right now. For some York residents, insurance rates could go up as much as 50 percent or more. We say no!

On June 30, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department agreed to hold a public hearing in Harrisburg at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, July 27, in Public Utility Commission Hearing Room #1, Keystone Building, 400 North Street, Harrisburg. We can also submit comments at ra-rateform@pa.gov.

Please join me in speaking up at the public hearing and sending emails. People like my mom deserve this opportunity to tell their story and to let the Pennsylvania Insurance Department know that affordable rate increases need to be ones that average Pennsylvanians can afford. Their public comment window is open now. Email them. Visit them. Call or write them. We deserve a voice and demand a say.

Carla Christopher is a York City resident and organizer, educator and poet-activist. 

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