Friday, November 5, 2010

Pro-Choice Battles ahead in DC and your state capital

From Raising Women's Voices:

After Tuesday night's election, the House of Representatives will now be led by members who are avowed opponents of health reform and of reproductive justice. In the House, Republican and Tea Party candidates have gained a combined 60 seats (with 11 seats still undecided), shifting the balance of power on many issues. For a district-by-district breakdown of the results, see here.  In the Senate, Republicans have gained at least 6 seats (with some votes still being counted) but did not gain the full 10 seats needed to take control of the chamber. For a state-by-state breakdown of the results, see here.

Control of the House isn't likely to be enough to enable Republicans like John Boehner (R-OH), who will become Speaker in January, or Eric Cantor (R-VA), who is expected to become the new Majority Leader, to follow through on their pledges to repeal health reform and enact a government-wide ban on federal funding of abortion.  But it will mean that women's health advocates have to be prepared to fight off attacks in Washington, even while we continue to press forward with implementation efforts in the states.

Boehner has identified two issues as his top priorities – jobs and cutting spending – but repeal of health reform was a key component of the Pledge to America that he put forward this fall as the agenda Republicans would follow under his leadership. Cantor told several media outlets last night that the Republicans would introduce a repeal bill early in the next Congress. It will be close to impossible to enact a full repeal, even if such a bill were to pass the House, because there are still enough health reform supporters in the Senate (where the Democrats now hold a smaller majority) to block it.   Given the popularity of some parts of the bill, it's likely that Republicans don't really want a full repeal. Regardless of what they claimed on the campaign trail.

A nationally-recognized expert on health policy had some consoling words for hundreds of people gathered this morning at a health reform conference in New York City. "Health reform is LAW. That's quite different from it being an idea. There is law here, and it has a whole lot of provisions stating: 'The secretary (of HHS) SHALL..."explained James Tallon, President of the United Hospital Fund and former chair of the NYS Assembly Health Committee.  As it happened, the Assistant Secretary of HHS for Policy and Evaluation, Sherry Glied, was on hand as a featured speaker. She seconded Tallon's comment:  "I'm going back to Washington to go ahead and do what we have to do to implement this."

But we know there will be attacks on parts of the bill. Just as important, with control of the House these opponents of reform will also take leadership of the House committees which will likely become a forum for hearings on health reform – bogging Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and her health reform staff down in endless testimony, investigations and demands for information about the implementation process.

We can also anticipate a new spate of attacks on abortion.  While the Democratic leadership of the House could ensure that bills like the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act, introduced this summer by Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), would not move forward, the new Congressional leadership is likely to help advance such efforts.  That bill is a sweeping round-up of antichoice initiatives including both old and new approaches to preventing women from getting abortion care and to defining abortion out of health care.  It has 183 co-sponsors today – with antichoice forces having gained numbers in both the House and the Senate, it could easily have more next year.

Though all the details of the vote counts and results won't be known today, it's clear this morning that women's health advocates will face many significant challenges in Washington over the next two years.

The View from the States

Given that the battle for health reform is moving into the states for the first implementation phase in 2011, let's look to them next. First the good news. Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire and New York fended off anti-choice and/or anti-reform candidates for governor (with several states still too close to call).

Unfortunately, several states have voted in governors who are anti-choice and/or anti-health reform. Among these are: New Mexico, where Democrat Bill Richardson's administration will be replaced by anti-choice Republican Susana Martinez who supports parental notification and whose website asserts that she "has been recommended by Right to Life New Mexico as a candidate who will stand up for pro-life principles."; Florida, where Republican Rick Scott will take over, and give anti-choice lawmakers another shot at their bill banning abortion coverage in that state's exchange; and Pennsylvania, where there will be a new Republican governor, Tom Corbett, who sued to block the health reform law as PA Attorney General.

The fight to fulfill the promise of health reform will certainly not be easy. Raising Women's Voices has an excellent network of coordinators and allies working in many of the states where the challenges will be tough. If you would like to join our network and work with us, email us here. We need you to continue raising your voices!

Contraception is Prevention:  Update from DC

The new health care reform law is already lowering the cost of preventive services, such as mammograms and Pap smears, by eliminating co-pays for these services in all new insurance plans.  But, we are still working hard to get contraception added to the federal list of qualified preventive services.

Our work will enter a new phase on November 16 in Washington, with the first meeting of the new Preventive Services for Women committee announced by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asked the (IOM) to convene an expert committee to make recommendations about which women's health preventive services should be added to the list of services exempt from co-pays. Members of the committee include many outstanding women's health and public health experts. 

RWV will be there, and take every opportunity to remind the committee that there is a strong public health consensus for including contraception as a preventive service.  We'll also talk about the importance of preventive services, including contraception, being covered without any co-pays or deductibles.   And we won't forget to talk about how important it is that women get coverage for these services without any unnecessary and unreasonable delays.  The IOM has a great reputation for bringing together well-qualified experts and keeping politics out of their scientific deliberations, but they don't always work very quickly.

We are continuing to urge HHS to speed up this process, especially since there is no medical or scientific controversy about contraception as prevention.  HHS officials responded to our (your!) official comment letter with an offer to meet in person a few days from now.  We appreciate the administration's respectful response to our comments, and are looking forward to our opportunities to bring our message directly to HHS and the IOM.  Stay tuned to the RWV Blog for more updates.

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