Health Care

Texans Fight Back Against Cuts

(Flickr/WeNews)
It's hard to overstate just how dire the situation is around women's health care in Texas. The state has the third highest rate of cervical cancer in the country and one in four women are uninsured. After cutting family-planning funding by around two-thirds last legislative session, conservative lawmakers are now standing by their decision to cut off Planned Parenthood from the state's Women's Health Program, a move that ended $35 million in federal funding. (Here's a timeline of the fight .) Governor Rick Perry, who bragged about the decision at the recent CPAC conference, has said he'll find the money to keep the program—while still barring Planned Parenthood. No one seems to know exactly where he'll find the money, given that the state has already underfunded Medicaid by $4 billion last session. In the meantime, Planned Parenthood, which serves 40 percent of the 130,000 who rely on the Women's Health Program, has already had to shut down more than a dozen clinics . Non-Planned...

Republican State Legislators Shoot Selves in Foot, Help Citizens

HealthCare.gov
One of the main features of the Affordable Care Act is the creation of 50 state-based health-insurance exchanges, online marketplaces where people and small businesses will be able to easily compare competing plans and select the one they prefer. If you're buying insurance on the individual market after the beginning of 2014 (but not if you get your insurance through your employer like most people), your state's exchange is where you'll go. While the federal government establishes a baseline of requirements for what plans offered through the exchange must contain, each state will determine exactly how theirs will work. But after the ACA was passed, and especially after the 2010 election where Republicans won huge gains at the state level, a lot of states run by Republicans refused to take any action to create their exchanges. Like a Catholic bishop looking at a package of birth-control pills, they retched and turned away, not wanting to sully their hands at all with involvement in...

What Does the ACA Do for You?

(Flickr/Barack Obama)
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the landmark piece of policy for Obama's first term. Save perhaps his response to the Great Recession, the ACA is likely to be the primary measure by which his presidency will be judged in the history books. As long as it is fully implemented, it should help millions of uninsured Americans by shifting more people onto Medicaid, providing subsidies for low-income workers, and forbidding insurance companies from excluding customers based on past illness. The Obama campaign released an interactive flow chart yesterday. One inputs their demographic data—age, sex, and income, for example—and the program spits out various ways the ACA has improved your health-care coverage. As someone who has private insurance, it showed me a list of services my insurance will now be required to cover at no extra charge and highlighted the fact that 80 percent of my monthly payments must be used on funding health service. It also informed me that, thanks to my salary level,...

The Obama Campaign Takes on Health Care

Obama campaign video
The Obama campaign has decided to make the case for the Affordable Care Act, with a series of videos and ads highlighting people who are being helped by the provisions already in effect. They are, unsurprisingly, expertly produced and extremely moving. Take a look at this one: I'm sure Republicans will object that this is too emotional and manipulative. But guess what? There actually are real people's lives at stake. This issue isn't just about ideological principles, or about a political calculation of how the ACA will affect the two parties over the coming decades. Those things aren't completely irrelevant, but much more important are the costs and benefits to living human beings. How persuasive will this be? Well, it isn't as though every voter is going to be sat down and shown John Boehner or somebody saying "If the government mandates that you buy health insurance, you might as well be living in the Gulag!" then get shown this video. If that were the case, it'd be no contest. But...

"Repeal and Replace" Goes By the Wayside

President Obama signs the Affordable Care Act.
Remember that whole "Repeal and Replace" thing Republicans were going to do about the Affordable Care Act? As Steve Benen tells us , turns out, not so much. Not only have congressional Republicans not bothered to come up with something to replace the ACA with, they're not even going to try the "repeal" part anymore either. Some conservative groups are outraged , since they appear to have been laboring under the impression that those congressional Republicans had a genuine, deeply felt hatred of the ACA and would try to kill it even if the politics didn't look so favorable for such a move. But Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell—perhaps the most practical, unsentimental politician in Washington—says no. Why? Because there's just no margin in it. The attempt would fail in both houses, and would only reinforce the idea that the GOP is nothing but a bunch of grumpy old men who care more about taking things away from people than about helping the country. So the Republican legislative...

Romney's New Health Care Problem

(Flickr/DonkeyHotey)
When this campaign started a year or so ago, a lot of people said that whatever his virtues, Mitt Romney simply could not become the presidential nominee of the Republican party, for one reason above all others: health care. He had the misfortune of having passed a popular, successful plan to reform health insurance in Massachusetts, only to watch a nearly identical plan become, in the eyes of his party, the most abominable freedom-destroying monstrosity since the Alien and Sedition Acts. Many smart people thought there was just no way Romney could get past it. Yet here we are, in the wake of Super Tuesday, and Mitt has a healthy delegate lead. No one seriously believes that he isn't going to be the nominee. Throughout this race, health care has certainly been an irritant for him, the cause of many an unpersuasive explanation and absurd protestation. But it hasn't stopped his march to the nomination. The problem Mitt now has is that health care is about to go from being a primary...

The Church, Taxes, and Health Insurance

The Bishops have never seen one of these.
The other day Tim Noah used the occasion of the Senate's vote on allowing any employer to prevent their employees' insurance from covering anything and everything the employer doesn't like (which every Republican senator except Olympia Snowe voted for) to argue that this is yet more evidence that employers ought to get out of the business of providing health coverage, and we ought to just have the government do it. In a single-payer system, these kinds of decisions can be made by our democratic process, and not by every employer individually. There's just one note I want to make about this. Conservatives have been talking a lot about the importance of preserving the "conscience" of the Catholic Church, their right not to participate in anything that violates their beliefs. That, of course, is a privilege that the rest of us, being citizens of a democracy, don't enjoy. We pay taxes, which go to a lot of things we dislike. I don't like the fact that our government spends as much on the...

Right to Know Versus Right to Withhold

In the debates over pre-abortion ultrasound bills, advocates often say such measures are vital to ensuring that women have all the relevant information. The argument is often based in part on the idea that abortion providers make money off of the procedures —and therefore may try to trick women into terminating their pregnancies . The reasoning also assumes that when deciding to have an abortion, a woman should know the physical details of the fetus, like how many fingers and toes have developed. That's why—in a messaging win for social conservatives—the pre-abortion sonogram requirement is often called a "Woman's Right to Know" legislation. But, Kansas Republicans may spoil all the fun. The state House is working on legislation that would allow doctors to withold information if it will help prevent an abortion, as well as requiring doctors to tell women that abortions increase odds of getting breast cancer—a theory many public health organizations reject. Forget right to know—the...

Blunt Amendment Fails in the Senate

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)
For a brief moment yesterday it looked as though some GOP senators were ready to step back from the ledge, and reject their party's assault on women's rights. A handful of Republican senators were hesitant to endorse the controversial Blunt amendment, which would allow any employer—both secular and religious—to reject covering individual aspects of health insurance they find morally questionable, not just contraception. Even Mitt Romney expressed opposition to the bill when an Ohio reporter explained the implications before his campaign quickly realized they had defied party doctrine, and issued a clarification, which reversed Romney's earlier statement. Any qualms with the legislation evaporated when it was put to a vote this morning. The measure failed 51-48, but Republicans voted with their usual lockstep discipline. Soon retiring Senator Olympia Snowe was the lone Republican opposing the measure and three Democrats—Ben Nelson, Joe Manchin, and Bob Casey—crossed the aisles to join...

Are Republicans Backing Away from the Contraception Fight?

(Flickr/Stacy Lynn Baum)
Senate Democrats think they have Republicans backed into a corner. In response to the hullabaloo around the Obama administration's decision on covering contraception in health-care plans, Missouri Senator Roy Blunt has offered an amendment to allow any employer—not just religiously affiliated organizations—to refuse to cover any health-care service—not just contraception—based on "religious beliefs or moral convictions." The battle over reproductive rights has already allowed Democrats to paint Republicans as antagonistic to women and, needless to say, Senate Dems are gleefully forcing a vote on the measure tomorrow to get their opponents' extremist take on the record. The Washington Post 's Greg Sargent checked in with a few Republican senators and found that some are hesitant to endorse the amendment ahead of tomorrow's vote: A spokesman for Senator Susan Collins confirms to me she’s still undecided — with less than 24 hours until tomorrow’s vote. On MSBNC just now, Senator Olympia...

Virginia Passes Sonogram Bill After All

(Flickr/mobeans)
In the end, even Jon Stewart couldn't kill the Virginia ultrasound bill. After more than a week of protests and national attention, the state Senate passed an amended version of the measure Tuesday afternoon which will require women seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound 24 hours ahead of the procedure. The Senate did unanimously pass an exemption for victims of rape and incest, but other amendments fell flat, including one to mandate insurance coverage of the sonograms. The House has already passed a version of the bill and it appears now to be headed for law. Much of the protesting focused on "transvaginal" ultrasounds, highly invasive procedures that would be required to get a clear image of a fetus in the very early stages of pregnancy. Opponents called the bill a "state rape" mandate. The Daily Show even had a bit on it. Public support for the measure tanked and, under pressure, the state's socially conservative Governor Bob McDonnell announced he opposed requiring transvaginal...

Reproductive Rights: I've Got Some Good News and Some Bad News

(Flickr/WeNews)
It's hard to relax these days (though I still haven't tried yoga.) Take the current fight around reproductive rights. Pro-choice advocates of women's health have heard plenty of good news in the past few days. The trouble is, it's almost always been tempered by bad news. See what I mean: Pre-Abortion Sonogram Debate After days of protests and media coverage, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell backed away from a state bill last week that required sonograms 24 hours before an abortion. Much of the criticism from pro-choice advocates focused on how the bill would require very invasive transvaginal sonograms for those women seeking an abortion early in the pregnancy. McDonnell explained he was opposed to requiring transvaginal sonograms and couldn't support the bill as written. The bill's opponents cheered. Now it seems likely Virginia will pass a less-extreme version of the bill—while Alabama may pass a bill more similar to Virginia's original. Virginia lawmakers have revised their...

Obama's Squandered Recovery

In The Escape Artists, Noam Scheiber depicts a White House out of its depth on the financial crisis.

The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery . By Noam Scheiber, Simon & Schuster, 351 pages, $28.00. A guy I know told me a story. He had a friend who was working on the 55th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center on that terrible day. When the plane hit the North Tower, everybody in the office understandably got very worried. When the plane hit the South Tower, people were going crazy. But the authorities on the floor—calm, experienced—told them not to panic. The guy’s friend thought to himself, “Fuck this, we’re all going to die," and raced downstairs, exiting the building right before it collapsed. I thought of that story when reading Noam Scheiber’s The Escape Artists, about the economic crisis at the start of Obama’s presidency and the administration’s response. In the book, based upon hundreds of on- and off-the-record interviews with principals and other witnesses to the events described, Obama and his top economic and political staff emerge as, to...

Republican Family Planning

It only took about an hour into the 20th Republican debate Wednesday for the candidates to find something they could agree on. After sparring over the fine details of earmarks, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum agreed that it’s all right for women to serve in the military but birth control, well, that’s a slippery slope that leads to the breakdown of society. Supporting the right of women to serve in the armed forces, itself a completely irrelevant debate considering 167,000 women are active-duty military , while trying to limit access to birth control, betrayed a profound ignorance on the way that women lead their lives. Even the way moderator John King posed a viewer-submitted question over contraceptives to the candidates, asking them if they “believed” in birth control, seemed to suggest that contraception is some form of rare unicorn that exists only in the imagination. The candidates’ answers were even more surreal. Gingrich skipped answering the question...

Personhood Bill Dead in Virginia

Update: Virginia's personhood bill is now dead for the year . The bill, already approved by the state House, passed out of a Senate committee this morning and headed to the floor. But the Republican-dominated Senate voted to send the bill back to committee and carry it over to next year. It's the second big win for pro-choice advocates in Virginia this week, after Governor Bob McDonnell retracted his support for a bill requiring pre-abortion transvaginal sonograms yesterday. "By vote of 24-14, HB 1 is rereferred to Senate Ed & Health and carried over for the year," tweeted Democratic Senator Mark Herring triumphantly. "Translation = Bill is defeated." This morning, less than 24 hours after pro-life advocates saw a big victory over a Virginia pre-abortion sonogram bill, a Virginia Senate committee voted to move the controversial "personhood" bill forward . The bill, which would have changed the legal definition of "person" to include fertilized eggs and fetuses, passed the House...

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