Monthly Archives: December 2011

Obamacare Saved Her Life: How the Affordable Care Act Helps Real People

Recently, Spike Dolomite Ward wrote an opinion piece for the LA Times in which she spoke about how health care reform, or the Affordable Care Act  (referred to as “Obamacare”), is providing her with the care she needs to fight her third-stage breast cancer. Once an outspoken critic of Obamacare, she now says that “for me it’s been a lifesaver — perhaps literally.”

Ward and her husband both run small businesses which both took huge hits in the recession. With a reduced income, Ward and her husband struggled to support themselves, their two children, pay their mortgage, and continue paying for insurance. Eventually, they had to decide whether to continue paying their mortgage or continue paying for their insurance. They chose to keep their house, a decision Ward says was “a nerve-racking gamble” which they lost when she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer which requires expensive treatments.

Ward details how being uninsured made it harder for her to get well. She says, “Not having insurance amplifies cancer stress. After the diagnosis, instead of focusing all of my energy on getting well, I was panicked about how we were going to pay for everything.” Luckily, Obamacare’s Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan (PCIP) came to her rescue. Ward explains that PCIP is

…Part of President Obama’s healthcare plan, one of the things that has already kicked in, and it guarantees access to insurance for U.S. citizens with preexisting conditions who have been uninsured for at least six months. The application was short, the premiums are affordable, and I have found the people who work in the administration office to be quite compassionate (nothing like the people I have dealt with over the years at other insurance companies.)

Ward recognizes that even though PCIP served her needs well, “It’s not perfect, of course, and it still leaves many people in need out in the cold.” However, it is nonetheless a resource that could save lives and that has made her reconsider her former anti-Obamacare stance. In a follow-up to her original opinion piece she challenges those who don’t relate to the struggles she and her family endured, “If your sister or mother lost her job and health insurance, and then turned up with breast cancer, what would you do? Would you let her die? Would you pick up the cancer tab yourself?, or would you tell her about PCIP?”

To find out more about the current controversies surrounding Obamacare and why it is important to stand up for health care reform that gives those who would otherwise be uninsured life-saving coverage, read some of our past blog posts about the issue.

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Filed under Health Care, Health insurance, Women's health

Women’s Law Project Leads Call for Review of Penn State University’s Handling of Allegations of Sexual Assault and Violence

In the wake of the recent disturbing reports that Penn State University failed to properly respond to allegations of sexual abuse by a former assistant football coach, the Women’s Law Project (WLP) spearheaded a group of civil rights organizations, including the National Women’s Law Center, ACLU-PA, Women’s Sports Foundation, Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, California Women’s Law Center, Legal Voice, Equal Rights Advocates, Southwest Women’s Law Center, and Equity Legal, in requesting the Office for Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Education (OCR) undertake a Title IX compliance review of how Penn State University handles allegations of sexual assault and violence, particularly when such allegations are lodged against athletes and athletic department staff.  The OCR is an agency tasked with ensuring equal access to education, which includes investigating and resolving compliance issues and complaints of discrimination.  A primary tool of the OCR is a compliance review, a process by which the OCR can target its resources and proactively take steps to focus on specific compliance problems that are particularly acute or national in scope. 

In the letter submitted last week on behalf of ten civil rights organizations, WLP requested that the OCR enforce its requirement that schools adjudicate sexual harassment and violence complaints on an equal and consistent basis.  The organizations’ request referenced a statement in the OCR’s recent April 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter which stated no preferential treatment would be given to athletes in such circumstances, providing that “[i]f a complaint of sexual violence involves a student athlete, the school must follow its standard procedures for resolving sexual violence complaints.  Such complaints must not be addressed solely by athletic department procedures.”   

Given the shocking allegations made against Penn State regarding its purported failure to sufficiently respond to reported child sexual abuse perpetrated by a member of its athletic department, this request for the OCR to conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of Penn State’s procedures is not only timely, but essential.  Indeed, in their letter to the OCR, the civil rights groups cited disturbing statistics regarding the frequency of sexual assault by student athletes in general, and significantly, point out numerous red flags with respect to Penn State’s poor track record in this area.  Specifically, the groups cite several examples of publicly available information that highlight incidents suggesting special treatment and slaps on the wrist for athletes committing sexual assault and violence.  The letter also calls for routine reviews to assess whether schools across the country respond differently to complaints of sexual harassment and violence when athletes and athletic department staff are implicated.

Please visit http://www.womenslawproject.org/ for more information.

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Filed under Sex Discrimination, Sexual Assault, Sexual harassment, Title IX

Obama Administration Inflicts a Blow to Women’s Health by Continuing to Restrict Access to Over-the-Counter Emergency Contraception

In a disappointing and unprecedented move, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) overruled the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recommendation to lift the age restriction on Plan B One Step, a form of emergency contraception.  Plan B, often referred to as the “morning after pill,” is 89% effective at safely preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after unprotected sexual intercourse.  On December 7, 2011, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius rejected the FDA’s decision to make emergency contraception available over-the-counter without age restriction on the basis that the data submitted to the FDA did not “conclusively establish” that Plan B could be used safely by the youngest girls of reproductive age, adding that 11-year old girls may not be able to safely comprehend and use the medication.  In what the FDA believes is the first time that the HHS has overruled one of its recommendations, FDA Administrator Margaret Hamburg, M.D. revealed this rare public rift and concluded that “there is adequate and reasonable, well-supported, and science-based evidence that Plan B One-Step is safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of childbearing potential.”    At a press conference, President Obama promptly defended Secretary Sebelius, saying that while he “did not get involved in the process,” he supported the Secretary’s decision that Plan B should not be available at the drug store “alongside bubble gum or batteries.”

The Obama administration’s decision imposes a dangerous obstacle in the pathway of protecting women’s health.  Indeed, the FDA’s recommendation to make emergency contraception available without restriction was overwhelmingly supported by medical and scientific authorities, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society of Adolescent Health and Medicine.  In a letter sent on December 19th to President Obama and Secretary Sebelius, the Women’s Law Project (WLP) urged the President to reevaluate and reconsider this decision and to take future action to protect, not undermine, women’s health. Among the many concerns cited in its letter, WLP noted that when our country faces approximately 3.1 million unintended pregnancies each year, unrestricted access to safe and effective contraception is vital.  WLP also pointed out that there is simply no evidence to suggest that making emergency over-the-counter contraception available encourages young women to begin having sex at a younger age, or engage in sex with more partners.  Further, the FDA’s recommended change would have made emergency contraception – which remains behind the pharmacist’s counter for women ages 17 years and older – far more accessible to women of all ages, an important development given the vast number of unplanned pregnancies among women in their twenties and thirties.

 To voice your objection about the Obama’s administration poor decision with respect to Plan B, call and/or write a letter to President Obama and Secretary Sebelius today:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
202-456-1111

Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20201
1-877-696-6775 

Please visit www.womenslawproject.org for more information.

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Filed under Contraception, Family Planning, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

PA Legislature Passes Disastrous “TRAP” Law

On December 14, 2011, after a raging legislative fight over women’s abortion care that lasted most of the past year, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Senate Bill 732 and sent it to Governor Corbett for his signature or veto. SB 732 will require safe, accessible abortion providers to comply with the burdensome and costly regulations now reserved for ambulatory surgical facilities, even though abortion is much safer and simpler than surgeries commonly conducted in ambulatory surgical centers.

Known as “TRAP laws,” (“Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers”), similar measures have been enacted in several states and are a tactic recommended by the National Right to Life Committee for closing down women’s clinics. Every medical and public health organization in Pennsylvania that has weighed in on the matter, including the unquestioned medical authority, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, opposes SB 732.

If SB 732 is allowed to take effect, most or all of the 20 existing freestanding clinics in Pennsylvania may have to stop offering abortion care temporarily, while they hire architects and contractors to transform their small clinics into sophisticated medical facilities; or they may close permanently, if they determine that their costs of making the required upgrades are prohibitive (particularly in light of the unavailability of public funding for abortion care). Instead of attending to the 37,000 Pennsylvania women who rely on them for safe care each year, providers will have to install hospital-grade elevators, acquire parking spaces and covered entryways, install specialized HVAC systems, double or triple the size of their procedure rooms, and rip up their flooring and install new flooring, among many other unnecessary and costly physical plant specifications.

The Women’s Law Project is busily at work on a legal strategy. The Governor could avoid not only litigation but also the potential of grievous harm to women simply by vetoing this bill. Please call him today, and tell him to veto SB 732, for the sake of the one in three women who will need abortion care by age 45.

GOVERNOR CORBETT: 717-787-2500
Honorable Tom Corbett
Governor of Pennsylvania
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg PA 17120
PLEASE DELIVER A MESSAGE TO GOVERNOR CORBETT:
RESPECT WOMEN’S HEALTH – VETO SB 732.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, PA Legislature, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Health Law Litigation Could Compromise Women’s Health

Last month, the United States Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which President Obama signed into law in 2010 with the purpose of improving Americans’ access to health care.  Legal challenges have focused primarily on the ACA’s individual mandate, which requires that most residents purchase qualified health plans or pay a fine, and the Medicaid expansion program, which expands Medicaid eligibility for residents to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. 

Lower courts have split on whether the ACA is constitutional.  See, e.g., Seven-Sky v. Holder, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 22566 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 8, 2011) (upholding the constitutionality of the ACA); Thomas More Law Ctr. v. Obama, 651 F.3d 529 (6th Cir. 2011) (upholding the constitutionality of the ACA); But see Florida v. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs., 648 F.3d 1235 (11th Cir. 2011) (holding that the Medicaid expansion program is constitutional because it is not unduly coercive, but striking down the individual mandate by finding it exceeds Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause). 

The Supreme Court will review four questions related to the constitutionality of the ACA: (1) whether the Anti-Injunction Act prevents lawsuits from challenging the individual mandate right now (if so, then the legal challenges cannot be in court until after the individual mandate goes into effect); (2) if the Anti-Injunction Act does not apply, is the individual mandate provision constitutional; (3) if the individual mandate is unconstitutional, can the rest of the ACA remain in effect without it; and (4) whether the ACA’s Medicaid expansion program is unconstitutional?

The Women’s Law Project believes that the ACA is a constitutional exercise of Congress’ broad powers under the Commerce and Spending Clauses of the United States Constitution.  See, e.g., Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 111 (1942); Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States, 379 U.S. 241 (1964); New York v. United States, 505 U.S. 144 (1992).  The decision not to purchase health insurance is an economic activity subject to congressional regulation under the Commerce Clause because, over time, those uninsured individuals will impose costs on taxpayers and others when they inevitably utilize healthcare during the course of their lives.  The Medicaid expansion program is also constitutional because it is a voluntary program that is not too coercive to the states.  Even the 11th Circuit, which invalidated the individual mandate, held that the Medicaid expansion program is constitutional. 

If the Supreme Court invalidates the ACA, the decision will jeopardize the health of millions of Americans.  According to Media Matters, the law has already benefitted 4 million seniors with Medicare, 4 million small businesses, 2 million children, and 1 million young adults. The Herndon Alliance points out that, among other benefits, when the ACA is fully implemented “a child getting sick [would] no longer [be] a reason for a lifetime of denial of care [and] preventive services will give our children and our parents better chances for healthier and longer lives.”

In particular, women will suffer if the ACA is not upheld.  The ACA benefits women in many ways, including by prohibiting insurers from using pregnancy, domestic violence, and sexual violence as “pre-existing conditions” to deny women health coverage, prohibiting the widespread practice of charging women higher insurance premiums than men for the same insurance (known as gender rating), guaranteeing maternity coverage, and ensuring new plans cover preventative services such as Pap smears and mammograms.

The ACA is constitutional and vitally important to improving the health of American citizens, particularly women.  The WLP strives to eliminate sex discrimination in insurance and to expand health coverage, and full implementation of the ACA is essential to meeting these goals.  For more information on the ACA and WLP’s work on access to health care, see WLP Health Care Reform.

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Filed under Health Care, Health insurance, Supreme Court, Women's health