Health Care

Abstinence-Only Education Making a Comeback?

Maybe we can start bringing these books into the classroom too. (Flickr/romana klee)

Here's a way to save time debating women's health. Rather than allow people to fight and debate the issues around birth control and access to healthcare, simply don't tell them key facts about contraception and sexual health. That way, rather than fighting, kids will be blissfully ignorant. Or, you know, rely on the wisdom of my sister's best friend's cousin who says you definitely can't get pregnant if it's a full moon. 

Legislatures in both Wisconsin and Utah have passed abstinence-only education bills. It's now up to governors in both states to determine whether or not to make the measures law.

Silver Lining for the Ladies

Women protesting at White House in 1917

Tigger and Eeyore are battling it out inside me this week. I can’t tell whether to be depressed over what Maureen Dowd calls “the attempt by Republican men to wrestle American women back into chastity belts” or invigorated by the myriad ways women are chronicling it and fighting back. Are women really gonna get dragged back to the scarlet-letter era—why not just repeal the 19th amendment!—or is all this going to set off a revitalized third feminist wave? 

Eeyore: In a surreal move, the Arizona Legislature’s Senate Judiciary committee has introduced a bill that would:

Texans Fight Back Against Cuts


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.

Republican State Legislators Shoot Selves in Foot, Help Citizens

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 President Obama's freedom-destroying health care plan. But the law also provides that if a state doesn't get around to creating its exchange, then the federal government will just do it for them.

Which is why I've always found the actions of Republicans on this issue puzzling...

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 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 principle, 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...

"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 agenda this year, to the very, very limited extent there will actually be one, isn't going to be focused on health care...

Romney's New Health Care Problem


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 election problem to being a general election problem. And Rick Santorum is going to make sure it happens...

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 any way 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 military as every other nation on earth combined. I also don't like the money we spend on tax subsidies for oil companies. My conservative friends don't like the fact that the government gives food stamps to poor people, and pays the EPA to make sure our air and water are clean. But we all pay taxes, because that's how it works—we don't get to pick and choose each line item we want to pay for and which ones we don't.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, like all religious institutions, doesn't pay taxes. Nor do their affiliated organizations like hospitals and universities, because they are non-profit organizations. So if we had a single-payer system, the Church wouldn't be involved in anybody's insurance. The only way they could influence the law would be the way they do on other issues: not by demanding that the law give them yet more special treatment, but through their moral persuasion on how they think the rest of us should act. And you can imagine how much force that would have.

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.

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.

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.

Virginia Passes Sonogram Bill After All


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.

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


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

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.