Archive for October, 2013
Recently, Ohio residential consumer advocates were invited by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO to file comments of on the rules governing the connection, disconnection and reconnection of gas and electric service and Ohio’s low income assistance program the Percentage of Income Payment program Plus (PIPP Plus) as part of the PUCO’s five-year review. Collectively, the consumer advocates are the only voice for everyday residential consumers before the PUCO, who makes and enforces rules regarding: utility security deposits, appropriate proof of consumer creditworthiness, and the timing and manner of shut off notices. This case is the only place where advocates can make recommendations on behalf of low- income customers who depend on the PIPP Plus program to get and/or remain connected to their utility to have heat and lights. These rules affect over 7 million customers who get gas or electric utility service from one of the regulated utilities in Ohio such as Duke, First Energy, AEP, or Columbia Gas, to name a few.
Consumer advocates urged the adoption of rules or changes to the rules in order to protect customers and maintain service without undue harm to utilities. In addition, the advocates made recommendations to improve PIPP Plus, which makes electric and gas payments affordable for low income Ohioans. The PIPP Plus program was created almost 3 years ago when the “Plus” was added to the existing PIPP program to provide arrearage forgiveness to many residents who had built up significant utility debt. The consumer advocates made the following recommendations for the Credit and Connection rules:
- Reduce utilities’ use of Social Security numbers to reduce the risk of identity theft
- Make security deposit requirements reasonable and affordable
- Connect service within a reasonable time after a request for service has been made
Similarly, the advocates also offered suggestions when disconnection or reconnection of service is an issue:
- Forbid landlords from using utility shut-offs to force tenants to move
- Require reconnection soon after payment is received if service is disconnected for nonpayment
- Make tenants liable only for service for the times that they actually rent and occupy a unit
- Create uniform rules and allow online access to forms for both residents with health emergencies and their healthcare providers to request temporary waivers of payment during health emergencies
This is only a sample of suggestions made by the consumer advocates. Click here and here to see all of the topics covered. Use this link to see the current rules and the rule changes proposed by the Staff of the PUCO.
As mentioned previously, consumer advocates also made numerous recommendations to improve the PIPP Plus program, such as:
- Maintain a hardship exemption to waive the $10 minimum payment for up to six months
- Allow customers the benefits of arrearage forgiveness if they fully or partially pay in advance
- Extend the time periods for customers cycling off PIPP Plus (for whatever reason) to provide payment schedules that are reasonable and affordable
- Allow the transfer of delinquent accounts to a PIPP Plus account
- Provide a more expansive definition of “on-time payment.”
Our positive recommendations will only improve the current rules, and we hope that the PUCO agrees and adopts many of these recommendations. The consumer advocates who jointly submitted comments include: the Ohio Poverty Law Center (OPLC) as well as most of the legal aid programs in Ohio, the Ohio Partners for Affordable Energy (OPAE), the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC), the Citizens’ Coalition, the Coalition of Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging (OAAA), the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies (OCAA), and the Ohio Association of Food Banks.
OPLC releases Health Care and Uncompensated Care Fact Sheets for Ohio Counties
The Ohio Poverty Law Center recently developed uncompensated care and Medicaid fact sheets for each of Ohio’s 88 counties to illustrate the benefits of expanding Medicaid on local economies. For more than a year, Ohio has been debating whether to expand Medicaid to Ohioans up to 138% of the federal poverty level. That expansion would provide access to health care for 300,000 very low-income Ohioans who are currently uninsured and have little or no access to health care.
For each county, the fact sheets include:
- the number of uninsured adults living in the county
- the number of uninsured adults living in the county with incomes at or below 138% of the federal poverty level who would be eligible for Medicaid under an expansion
- the current number of Medicaid recipients living in the county
- the amount of uncompensated care provided by hospitals
This information illustrates the economic benefits Medicaid expansion would have on local economies by (1) reducing medical debt so that low-income patients and their families can use their scarce resources for other necessities such as food and housing, (2) dramatically reducing cost shifting by hospitals for care provided to uninsured patients, and (3) pumping millions of dollars into county economies and billions of dollars into the state’s economy via Medicaid payments to hospitals, physicians and other health care providers.
For a full set of the county fact sheets, visit: http://www.ohiopovertylawcenter.org/county-medicaid-expansion-fact-sheets
Studies have found that every $1.00 of Medicaid spending generates about $3.15 of economic activity so that this multiplier effect will help to create even more new jobs and businesses in Ohio’s counties. One such study is: R Greenbaum and A Desai. Uneven Burden: Economic analysis of Medicaid expenditure changes in Ohio. The Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, Cincinnati, Ohio 2003. http://www.ppm.ohio-state.edu/ppm/Medicaid.pdf.
Of course, the benefits of expanding Medicaid go far beyond mere dollars and cents. Improved health status, extended life expectancy, expanded employability, greater family stability and other personal and societal benefits will eventually dwarf the economic impacts, but the economic benefits to the state and each of Ohio’s counties should persuade policy makers who only focus on the bottom line too support expanding Medicaid.
Please share this information with friends and neighbors and encourage everyone to contact their legislators to ask them to support expanding Medicaid in Ohio to the fullest extent
Let us all hope that Ohio takes the steps to expand Medicaid soon so that all Ohioans and our local and state economies can enjoy the benefits beginning in January 2014.