Another round of applause for Sister Simone Campbell!
She's the social justice advocate who organized that letter in support of health reform sent to Congress from religious orders representing more than 50,000 Catholic nuns. In it, they disputed the U.S. Bishops' claim that the health reform bill would allow federal funds to be used for abortions.
Today, Sister Simone is back with a stern lecture to anti-choice politicians, posted on the website of The Hill, a must-read publication for Washington insiders. It's entitled "Honest debate imperative for health care." Sister Simone writes, "Health care reform has been the law of the land for a month now, and opponents of the landmark legislation are hard at work using misinformation about federal funding of abortion to exact punishment against pro-life members of Congress who voted for the bill."
What's she's talking about is the campaign by the National Republican Committee to unseat Democratic members of Congress who are what they call "Stupak sell-outs" because they joined Rep. Bart Stupak in voting for the health reform bill after President Obama agreed to sign an Executive Order reinforcing the legislation's prohibition against use of federal funds for abortion coverage."It's outrageous that pro-life Democrats who took a moral stand for life-affirming healthcare reform must now face dishonest attacks from purportedly pro-life advocates and organizations," Sister Simone writes, adding, "I pray the bearers of false witness desist."
Unfortunately, that seems unlikely, even on the Democratic side of the aisle. Already, some Democratic members of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus are trying to get Stupak's original abortion ban language restored to health reform. Stupak is retiring from Congress this year and his spot as the Democratic co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus will be up for grabs. Seven of his potential successors as co-chair are supporting a bill (HR 5111) introduced by Rep. Joe Pitts, a Pennsylvania Republican, to do that, according to Congressional Quarterly. The bill doesn't seem to be going anywhere yet.
But, meanwhile, don't we wish Sister Simone could summon up some compassion for the low-income women who desperately need abortions and have no insurance coverage? The proportion of abortion patients who were poor increased by almost 60%—from 27% in 2000 to 42% in 2008, according to "Characteristics of U.S. Abortion Patients, 2009" a new study released by The Guttmacher Institute this week. More than half of women obtaining abortions that year paid for them out of pocket, the study reported, citing the lack of Medicaid coverage of abortion in most states as one of the reasons.
Passing health reform was a team effort – there's no one person or thing that was responsible for the success this year after so many previous efforts had failed. But there's no question, that it helped our cause to have some major employers on our side, or at least to have them sit out the fight instead of actively opposing reform as they had in the past. In large part, that change happened because employers were struggling to keep up with soaring health insurance rates and wanted reform to relieve the pressure.
Unfortunately, cowed by opponents' accusations that health reform would result in a socialist take-over of the health care sector by the government, Congress didn't actually create a strong mechanism to control health insurance prices and profits. In fact, although the new law will prevent some of the most abusive industry practices that insurers used to build their obscene profits, it also dramatically expands their customer base by requiring everyone to buy a policy and using government funds to subsidize the premium costs for people who can't afford it. But to no one's surprise, insurance companies are already announcing huge premium increases, shamelessly blaming the changes on health reform.
Congress didn't ignore the problem entirely. Legislators included provisions that require insurers to post their proposed rate increases online, making it easier for consumers to know what's happening and to compare rates, and the law also gives states the authority to exclude insurance plans that inflict exorbitant rate hikes on their customers from the exchanges. A few states have good consumer protection laws in place that require insurers to file proposed rate increases for regulatory review and approval, but in more than half the states there is no strong review authority, leaving unjustified and excessive rate hikes unchecked.
Spurred by reports of spikes in insurance premiums – including news that Anthem Blue Cross of California was trying to raise premiums by as much as 39 percent – two women in Congress are now leading the way to rein in the insurance industry's attempts to continue its unabashed profiteering. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California and Representative Jan Schakowsky of Illinois have introduced a bill that would create a new federal authority to work with state insurance regulators, coordinating with those that already have adequate rate review processes and acting as a backstop for states that don't. The Health Insurance Rate Authority Act of 2010 (S. 3078/H.R. 4757) would provide regulators with a flexible range of potential remedies, including the possibility of requiring insurance companies to provide rebates to their customers, and ensure that officials reviewing unjustified rate increases have the tools necessary to correct them.
In a positive step forward, today Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius announced that she is urging states to re-examine any WellPoint health insurance rate increases and calling on them to strengthen their regulatory rate review authorities.
Check the list of cosponsors in the House and Senate to see if your members of Congress have signed on. If they have, send a thank you! If they haven't, reach out and ask them to do it now. After all our hard work on health reform, we can't sit by and let the insurance industry torpedo the new law by carrying on with the same old bad behavior.
A total of 28 states and the District of Columbia have written to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to say they will exercise the option they were given under the new federal health reform law to establish or expand their own state high-risk insurance pools for uninsured people with pre-existing conditions. Another 18 states declined to run their own high-risk pools and instead said they would participate in a federal high-risk pool to be created by HHS. Not all states have yet responded.
Both the state and federal pools are intended as temporary measures until 2014, when insurers will no longer be able to refuse coverage to adults with pre-existing conditions or charge unreasonably high premiums. The pools are designed to offer more affordable health insurance options to people who have gone without coverage for at least six months and have a pre-existing condition, such as breast cancer.
Of concern to RWV is whether these new programs will include comprehensive women's health care, because participating states will receive a share of $5 billion in federal money allocated for this purpose by the new health reform law. There are various ways states could choose to use the federal money, such as providing subsidies to help people purchase expensive insurance. A subsidy approach, however, might invoke the health reform law's troublesome Nelson abortion coverage restrictions on use of federal funds. Another approach might be to encourage insurers to lower premiums for people with illnesses by creating emergency back-up pools of money the insurers could tap into when an insured individual's medical expenses go over a certain amount.
The following states had indicated they will run their own high-risk programs: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, Washington State, West Virginia and Wisconsin.States that said they would choose to participate in the federal pool are: Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Wyoming and Virginia. Three states have not indicated yet what they want to do: Arizona, Rhode Island and Utah.
Want to learn more about high-risk pools? Read HHS's announcement about high-risk pools HERE and an update HERE.
Want to work in your state to ensure the high-risk pool covers women's health care? Email us at. firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to receive further information and participate in a conference call on this issue.
As we move into health reform implementation, Raising Women's Voices wants to keep our wonderful, active network (that's you!) engaged with the issues that matter the most to you.
Eesha Pandit and Lois Uttley accepted the award for RWV at an event in mid-town Manhattan. It was presented to us by Dr. Sharon Phillips, an NPA member who has been a strong ally in the fight against abortion restrictions in the health reform bill. While sharing our dismay at the inclusion of the Nelson abortion restriction language in the final health reform bill that passed Congress, Dr. Phillips said she has been able to stay active in health reform, now in the implementation phase, because of RWV's analysis explaining the many benefits to women and girls from the new health reform law.
RWV has been thrilled to work with members of the National Physicians Alliance New York chapter over the past year in organizing health reform teach-ins and rallies. Whenever RWV needed a physician to appear at an event and explain what health reform would mean to doctors and their patients, members of NPA were ready, we explained, citing presentations at RWV teach-ins by such NPA members as Dr. Oni Blackstock, Dr. Manisha Sharma, Dr. Bill Jordan and Dr. Karen Wang.
A young and extremely diverse group of physicians and medical students, NPA is made up of people who "went to medical school to help people," explained Dr. Nina Agrawal, a pediatrician who emceed the Tuesday night event. She cited the tireless efforts of a group of Mount Sinai medical students who found time between their classes and studies to travel to Washington twice with NPA to lobby Congress on health reform, remarking "When I was a medical student, I didn't even have time to do the dishes!"
NPA members also won praise from Dr. Una Clarke, who appeared at the event to accept an NPA award for her daughter, U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn, who could not be present. "You are the generation of physicians who will bring back conscience to medical care," she told them.
working to make sure women's voices are heard
in the Health Reform debate and their concerns are addressed by policymakers
developing national and state health reform plans.
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