Wednesday, November 25, 2009

John Larson's Forum on Women's Health Care

On Tuesday morning, a forum was held by Congressman John Larson (1st district) to discuss the impact of health reform and the house bill on women's health care. Congressman Larson, who has been a longtime advocate for women's rights and issues during his six terms in Congress, voted for the house bill on November 8th and recognizes it as one of the most crucial and historic pieces of legislation in generations. I have to admit, my preoccupation with the ban on abortion coverage has been a distraction from the truly excellent aspects of the bill and Congressman Larson helped point some of those out to me. For example, women, who pay on average 48% more for health care than men, will no longer do so. Women, who are more likely to be in part-time or temp jobs that don't offer benefits and with this health care bill, will have unfettered access to health care coverage. Pre-existing conditions will no longer be a basis on which coverage can be removed, which is more likely to impact women since women are more likely to have asthma, diabetes, and conditions that require (expensive) equipment. In general, women would have better access to affordable health care, which is not the case now. 56% of people who declare medical bankruptcy are women, according to Teresa Younger, the executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and one of the panelists. Research also shows, according to panelist Judy Stein, that women are overwhelmingly the financial decision-makers and in charge of health care in their households.

Patti Russo, the vice president of the Yale Women's Campaign School and former commissioner of PSCW, moderated the forum and besides Congressman Larson, there were three fabulous panelists. The first who spoke was Dr. Ellen Andrews, the executive director of the CT Health Policy Project, and she addressed both the status of women and their health care in CT, and the impact of the health care bill on women. She raised an important issue that I mentioned in my previous post: how we will develop a workforce to support the steep hike in insured people, because the bottom line is, insurance for all does not mean access for all. Newly insured people who don't drive or don't have a car, for example, need a clinic in their community.

Judy Stein, the founder and executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, shared a personal story about a two-tiered struggle: one with breast cancer and the other with her insurance company. She had to FIGHT to get coverage of certain medications and went to more trouble than should be legal in order to get the health care she needed. And she's a medicare advocate! Her profession is working with insurance companies. It really resonated with me that the current climate in health care is stormy for everyone, even people who deal with health insurance issues for a living. Shifting gears a little, Attorney Stein agreed with an editorial by David Brooks that argues that the health care debate is about values. It's about whether we want to ease the anxiety of millions (millions!) at the cost of future growth and our vibrancy as a nation, or continue to ignore the plight of the uninsured in order to maintain our vitality. In the words of Mr. Brooks, "America would be a less youthful, ragged and unforgiving nation, and a more middle-aged, civilized and sedate one." How everyone at this forum felt about the values debate is probably obvious -- she concluded her talk encouraging everyone to get in touch with Senator Lieberman and urge him to support health care reform, woman-friendly health care reform in particular.

The third and final panelist was Teresa Younger, the executive director for the CT Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), who declared health care as THE premier woman's issue. The forum was opened to several questions and comments made by the audience. One particularly interesting comment came from a gynecologist that shared that the research recommending less frequent pap smears is actually several years old (the timing is curious though, no?) and should in no way be interpreted as discouraging women from yearly OBGYN visits. It was really empowering to see some of Connecticut's leaders in women's rights and look at health reform through that specific lens. I feel like the Stupak amendment has put us in a situation where we are fighting for ok/decent legislation instead horrible mind-numbing injustice when it comes to women's access to abortion coverage, but I really do hope the legislation passes because it will improve the lives of so many people. We'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rep. Chris Murphy's health care reform briefing

If there's one thing that everyone can agree on about the health care reform, it's that the bill that passed in the house two weeks ago is complex and confusing. Yesterday, Congressman Chris Murphy (5th district) hosted a briefing on the bill to help state legislators, advocates, the press and the public understand the bill and what it means for Connecticut and its residents. Here are some key points that came up in the discussion:

-- With the new purchasing plan, made up of federal subsidies and the public option plan, 96% of individuals in CT will be insured.
-- The bill makes it feasible for small businesses to afford health insurance for their employees by joining the health insurance exchange and, moreover, creates incentives for them to do so through tax credits (up to 50% for small businesses) and monetary penalties for failure to offer coverage. The hope is that eventually, all businesses will join the health care exchange.
-- States can opt out of the federal exchange if they wish to create their own health insurance exchange instead.
-- Pre-existing conditions will NO LONGER be a determining factor in whether a person gets health care coverage or not.
-- The life of medicare will be increased by several years through tweaks in funding.
-- State Rep. Betsy Ritter (38th district) raised an important question that is of particular interest to me from a policy standpoint -- how will the state need to respond to the remarkable increase of 30 million new insured people? The issue of greatest concern is the present shortage of primary care physicians, which the bill actually addresses. It will provide funding for scholarships and loan repayment plans for med and nursing students in exchange for promising a certain number of years practicing primary care. This also points to additional infrastructural issues such as the need for more health clinics to accommodate the increased numbers of insured people and the strategic placement of these clinics in communities that otherwise would not have realistic access to care.
- A point was raised by State Rep. Andy Fleischmann who shared an anecdote about a time when he knew his insurance company was supposed to cover a given medication but each time he called the company, they said it was not covered. It took persistent calling and, eventually, talking to *somebody important* for them to concede that yes, the medication to which he was referring is covered by the plan he is paying for. Most people, he said, would simply accept that the medication is not covered after the first phone call. He then made the compelling point that we have greater consumer protection when it comes to our cars than our health. How can we hold insurance companies accountable for the contract that we, the insured, and they, the insurer enter into which guarantees financial coverage of specific medical procedures, drugs, doctor's visits, etc., in exchange for a monthly premium?
-- Touching on reproductive rights, one man stood up and shared the following story: As he was leaving church one Sunday, he came across a note on his car, placed there, he thinks, because of the Obama sticker. The note said something along the lines of, "do not support Barack Obama's health care bill because he wants to murder innocent babies." He then asked Congressman Murphy, "how can we stop anti-choice fanatics from really taking over this bill?" The Congressman responded, "Unfortunately, we do not have a pro-choice congress, and we can only hope for the best in the senate." This raises an important point, though, and that is the anti-choice movement is taking advantage of health care to push their political agenda. Abortion, after all, is a LEGAL MEDICAL PROCEDURE, and women have a right to have it if they wish.

In all, it was helpful to listen to Congressman Murphy pick apart the important and confusing parts of the bill -- he was impressively informed and we are so appreciative of all his work!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Catholicism and Logic

Created by: Jillian

In response to the allegation that he told Representative Patrick Kennedy that it would be "inappropriate" for him to continue receiving communion, Bishop Thomas Tobin said,

"I am disappointed that the congressman would make public my request...that sought to provide solely for his spiritual well-being." "I have no desire to continue the discussion of Congressman Kennedy's spiritual life in public."

The Bishop was concerned for the Congressman's spiritual well-being because of his position on federal funding of abortion. So, my only question is...if abortion is a matter of spiritual well-being, and spiritual well-being should not be discussed in public, then why did the Conference of Catholic Bishops go to Speaker Nancy Pelosi to challenge her on abortion in health care reform?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Apples & Oranges

Created by: Jillian

Two new polls show that the majority of Americans oppose federal funding of abortion in the health care bill and some people are calling this a victory for "pro-lifers".

And so it goes...more misinformation.

The Stupak-Pitts Amendment has nothing to do with federal funding of abortion, it goes much beyond that and all but prohibits insurance companies in the public exchange from offering abortion coverage in their plan.

Pro-Choice advocates are well aware that the majority of Americans oppose federal funding of abortion, evident by the longevity and strength of the Hyde Amendment--in effect since 1976. Pro-Choice advocates were aware of this when they first started working with legislators on health care reform. They worked with legislators on both sides of the abortion issue to come up with a compromise known as the Capps Amendment, that made a separation of funds used to pay for abortion and federal funds.

Anti-choice advocates and Stupak himself have done a good job of reinforcing that the Stupak Amendment is a debate over federal funding of abortion, when in fact, it is not. The Stupak Amendment will prohibit women who enter the public health insurance exchange who plan on paying their entire premium out of pocket from being able to access abortion because the Stupak Amendment has been contructed in such a way that it will not be financially beneficial for insurance companies to offer abortion coverage, and so, most if not all insurance companies will not cover it.

We need to stop comparing apples to oranges.

The question isn't if Americans oppose federal funding of abortion--we already know that.

We need to know if Americans support the strategic elimination of insurance coverage for abortion over time.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

More than 97,000 Signatures for Majority Leader Reid

On Monday, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, dropped off a massive petition for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urging him not to incorporate the severe anti-choice language into the senate's version of the health care bill. See the full article here. In 72 hours, NPCA gathered 97,218 signatures, surpassing its initial goal of 72,000.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW: Contact your senator and tell her/him how you feel about the Stupak-Pitt Amendment. It's easy through the NPCA website!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Touche, Stupak-Pitt!

Hi everyone, I'm Hannah, and I'm interning at NARAL Pro-Choice CT this winter. My arrival is quite serendipitous, I must say, because only in the past ten days, women's reproductive rights has become a front-burner issue in the national health care debate. Well, it has aways been a front-burner issue for us, right? But the Stupak-Pitts amendment is really giving us something to work with.

The bill that was passed creates a new health insurance exchange that will cover the vast majority of uninsured Americans by providing them with either 1.) federal subsidies with which to purchase a private plan, or 2.) a public plan. The Hyde amendment, passed in the '70s, holds that federal dollars can't be used to fund abortions. So, no abortion coverage in the public plan. The Stupak amendment, which was tacked on the health care bill at the 11th hour, takes Hyde one (slash many) steps further by prohibiting federal subsidies from being spent on private plans that offer abortion coverage. This is utter insanity because approximately 80% of consumers will need, and use, federal subsidies -- aka a lot of people -- and it is a strong incentive for insurance companies to discontinue abortion coverage in order to tap into this new market of consumers.

So, the 17 million women who are uninsured and millions more that are underinsured will not have access to abortion coverage in the new health care exchange. Moreover, it is feared that women who currently have plans that offer abortion coverage will lose it as the employer-based system gradually erodes so employers can save money. In this sense, Obama's promise that people who are happy with their health care won't have to change it does NOT hold true.

This is the bare-bones basic idea, as I am still learning. Definitely go out and read up on it in 101 different places. Here are a couple links if you aren't sure where to start: NARAL Pro-Choice American has some info and resources on their website. Also check out the issue brief from Planned Parenthood, and Kay Steiger's blog, which has a bunch of links that were extremely interesting and informative to me., of which I am a humungo fan, will also be extremely on top of what's happening. Please comment if you have a blog or newspaper that we should follow!

At dinner last night, my dad sweetly and supportively told me, "social change takes time." He's right. It took around 80 years for women to get the vote, after all. I can't help but feel impatient, however, because this is something that affects ME RIGHT NOW. And it affects millions of other women right now. But, there is still hope, because this thing isn't over. The vote in the Senate will be taking place in the near future and we gotta sound the alarm! If you live in CT, call Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman. Also, don't miss the following phone banking opportunities THIS WEEK: Pro-Choice CT will be contacting Delaware activists reminding them to bug their senators, and Pro-Choice New York will be doing the same for Floridians.

It's easy to participate in a phone bank -- and you can take on as much as you want, and do it from the comfort of your home/dorm. You'll be calling NARAL members and activists, remember, which means a lower risk of mean hang-ups. Email Jillian, Pro-Choice CT's exec director, at to sign up!

Take a moment and comment below -- how do you feel about what's happening? Are you unsurprised? Is your mind boggled? Do you feel like people around you or on your campus understand what's happening? Let us know!