Category Archives: Pennsylvania

Doctors Aren’t Dummies: Support the Patient Trust Act

By Kate Michelman, WomenVote PA and Susan Frietsche, WLP Senior Staff Attorney

Doctors aren’t dummies.

They don’t need politicians to tell them what they can and can’t say to patients, or how to administer tests and treatments.

On September 8, the House Democratic Policy Committee convened to explore the need to pass the Patient Trust Act in Pennsylvania. Physicians, medical ethics experts, and patient advocates met in Pittsburgh to discuss the dangers patients face when medical care becomes politicized.

Introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) and Senator Mike Stack (D-Phila) in July, the Patient Trust Act is part of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health, a pro-active, pro-choice package of bills developed by the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus in the Pennsylvania Legislature.

The Patient Trust Act protects patients. It says that politicians have no business putting words that are “not medically accurate and appropriate for the patient” into the mouths of doctors.

Since antiquity, physicians have taken an oath to treat patients to the best of their ability, with knowledge rooted in clinical experience and scientific consensus. But in recent years, politicians have made it difficult — and in some cases even illegal — for doctors to keep that sacred obligation.

These government-intrusion laws run the gamut from prohibitions on discussing gun storage safety with patients to gag orders preventing doctors from naming the toxic chemicals that are poisoning a patient’s body. A significant number of these government-intrusion laws are proposed by lawmakers trying to disguise their opposition to contraception and abortion by disingenuously claiming that these laws promote women’s health and safety.

Recently, the National Partnership for Women and Families released a report that explored the nationwide spike in laws that command doctors what to say and coerce them to administer — and bill patients for — medically unnecessary procedures.

Bad Medicine: How a Political Agenda is Undermining Women’s Health found that the majority of states — 35 in all — have passed such laws. In many cases, the information doctors are forced to give patients is not even medically and scientifically accurate.

The report’s authors concluded that “anti-choice laws are requiring health care providers to choose between following their medical training and their ethical obligations to their patients — and following the law.”

From the Bad Medicine report:

*Five states force doctors to tell patients of a false link between abortion and breast cancer.

*Five states force doctors to falsely advise a patient that an abortion will affect her future fertility.

*Eight states force doctors to provide misinformation that falsely indicates the only possible emotional response to abortion is negative.

*Twelve states force doctors to provide unfounded information that fetuses can feel pain, despite lack of scientific evidence.

In 2012, anti-choice Pennsylvania lawmakers proposed mandating that doctors perform medically unnecessary ultrasounds on women seeking an abortion. The bill, one of the most severe of its kind in the country, was quietly abandoned after a similar bill led to a backlash in Virginia.

But that doesn’t mean the mandatory ultrasound bill, or legislation like it, won’t be proposed in Pennsylvania again.

Laws like these enable politicians to act like ventriloquists, throwing their words into the mouths of doctors. It’s time for politicians to stop masquerading as ideological ventriloquists.

Doctors aren’t dummies. Patients deserve better. Women need to be able to trust that the voice they’re hearing is from their physician, not from Harrisburg’s political puppeteers.

Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an organization that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”

Sue Frietsche is a senior staff attorney in the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project.

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Filed under Contraception, Health Care, Health insurance, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Let’s Leave Politics Behind for the Sake of Healthcare

By Kate Michelman and Carol E. Tracy

Pennsylvania is facing a 1.3 billion deficit and the annual state budget is due June 30. The obvious solution is to expand Medicaid, but some Pennsylvania legislators won’t consider it.

When Governor Corbett rejected expanding Medicaid as designed under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the state gave up millions of dollars in federal funds that are still available, ready to be disbursed. By expanding Medicaid, even temporarily, Pennsylvania lawmakers could immediately draw down $600 million dollars for the 2014-15 budget – $500 million more than Governor Corbett’s Executive Budget – which would slash the 1.3 billion deficit considerably.

Of course, Medicaid expansion would also mean that the 600,000 Pennsylvanians left in the “coverage gap” without access to healthcare could actually see a doctor.

Refusing to expand Medicaid immediately in the face of a budget crisis not only means forgoing $500 million dollars in readily available revenue, but also maintaining an unacceptable status quo that means some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians receive the least help.

Currently, because Pennsylvania didn’t expand Medicaid, the qualification cut-off for “traditional” Medicaid for non-disabled parents is 38% of the federal poverty level, or about $9,000 a year for a family of four.

Meanwhile, the ACA provides families of four earning between $24,000 and $95,500 a year with tax subsidies to assist them with purchasing a private insurance plan through the online marketplace. Families with incomes between $9,000 and $24,000 are left uninsured.

Refusing to expand Medicaid as intended under the ACA has created a bizarre system where a mother of two children who earns $10,000 a year does not qualify for subsidized coverage, while a childless single person earning $44,000 a year does.

Healthy mothers mean healthy families. Women’s lack of access to healthcare contributes to ailments that cause premature births, infant mortality and maternal mortality. With recent research showing that pregnant women and infants in Philadelphia suffer higher incidence of maternal and infant mortality than the rest of the country, we can’t afford to continue to play politics with health policy.

Health shouldn’t be determined by geography.

Every state touching Pennsylvania’s borders has expanded Medicaid. To be clear, the 600,000 working-poor Pennsylvanians in the coverage gap are stuck there simply because they live in Pennsylvania.

In addition to improving health and adding $500 million dollars in revenue, expanding Medicaid would create approximately 35,000 jobs.

State budget secretary Charles Zogby recently admitted that if the state attempts to balance the budget with only existing revenues, there would be no new funding for basic education, higher education or to reduce waiting lists for services for people with intellectual disabilities.

Governor Corbett has been fighting against the Affordable Care Act since he filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the law as attorney general back in 2010. How much longer and how much more is he willing to sacrifice to the game of partisan politics?

Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania need not disrupt the approval process for Healthy PA, the alternate plan Governor Corbett submitted for federal review. (Healthy PA proposes to use the federal funds earmarked for expansion to provide a new form of coverage to low-income Pennsylvanians while cutting and limiting current benefits.) Policy experts point to New Hampshire as an example of a state that temporarily expanded Medicaid while negotiating an alternate waiver.

The budget crisis is frightening, but it is at least forcing the Pennsylvania legislature to reveal what they value most. They can choose partisan gamesmanship over the financial health of the Commonwealth and literal health of 600,000 citizens, or they can improve the health of working men and women, create jobs, and lay claim to $500 million additional federal dollars while slashing the budget deficit.

It seems clear it’s time to choose responsible governance over petty politics and expand Medicaid in Pennsylvania.


About the Women’s Law Project and WomenVote PA:

The Women’s Law Project is a Pennsylvania-based non-profit women’s legal advocacy organization focused on high-impact research, litigation and advocacy. The Women’s Law Project has offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. For more information go to www.womenslawproject.org.

WomenVote PA is the non-partisan action arm of the Women’s Law Project. For more information go to www.womenvotepa.org.

Carol E. Tracy is Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project and co-chairs, with Kate Michelman, of WomenVote PA.

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Filed under Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Medicaid, Pennsylvania, Women's health, working mothers, Working poor, working women

Women’s Law Project Files Title IX Complaints Against Pennsylvania State System Universities

On April 17th, the Women’s Law Project filed complaints with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) of the U.S. Department of Education against nine members of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PSSHE), asking OCR to address the historical and ongoing failure of these universities to provide equal athletic opportunity to their female students. The nine universities are Bloomsburg, Cheyney, Clarion, Indiana, Kutztown, Lock Haven, Mansfield, Millersville, and Shippensburg.

In a letter to counsel for PSSHE, Terry Fromson, managing attorney of the Women’s Law Project wrote:

“There is no excuse for the athletic disparities at these PSSHE member universities. Despite the fact that Title IX has obligated them to achieve gender equality for more than four decades, these universities have not undertaken genuine efforts to increase opportunities for or satisfy the athletic interests of their female students. It is time for PSSHE as a whole to undertake appropriate and ongoing measures to effectively and promptly address the inequities in their athletic programs.” Fromson added.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits sex discrimination by federally funded educational programs, requires schools to provide equal athletic opportunity, financial assistance, and recruiting support. To meet Title IX’s equal athletic opportunity requirement, a university must demonstrate that it meets one of three tests: (1) providing women with athletic opportunities in substantial proportion to their full-time undergraduate enrollment; (2) demonstrating a history and continuing practice of increasing athletic opportunities for women; or (3) effectively accommodating the athletic interests and abilities of women. Publicly available information strongly suggests that these universities are unlikely to satisfy any of these tests.

“Each of these universities has failed to provide athletic opportunities to their female students in proportion to the percentage of undergraduate women enrolled in the university. The disparities over the past ten years average between seven and almost 15 percent,” commented Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney for the Women’s Law Project, who noted that collectively, the nine schools are missing over 900 athletic opportunities for women. “With OCR involvement and State System cooperation, this injustice can at last be corrected,” Frietsche added.

 

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Pennsylvania, Sports, Title IX, Women's Law Project

The Corbett Administration’s Unhealthy Pennsylvania Proposal

By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

Instead of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, as all of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have done, the Corbett Administration has proposed a different plan in its Healthy Pennsylvania 1115 Application (“Healthy Pennsylvania Proposal), which it claims will extend health care coverage to 500,000 uninsured adults. On Monday, January 13, 2014, Carol E. Tracy and Tara R. Pfeifer of the Women’s Law Project (WLP) submitted comments on this proposal to Secretary Beverly Mackereth of the Department of Public Welfare (DPW).

In its comments, WLP urged Governor Corbett to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act rather than pursue the Healthy Pennsylvania Proposal. If implemented, the Governor’s proposed plan will negatively affect women, who make up a large percentage of Pennsylvania’s low-income population. The concerning aspects of this proposal include:

  • A Premium Requirement That Will Make Health Care Inaccessible.
    The Healthy Pennsylvania Proposal would impose a premium on individuals who make as little as $479 per month. This requirement would be burdensome for low-income Pennsylvanians, many of whom are women, and would likely result in loss of coverage.
  • Cuts to Health Care Benefits for the 1.2 Million Individuals Currently on Medicaid.
    The Healthy Pennsylvania Proposal places Medicaid recipients onto high risk or low-risk plans, both of which provide dramatically less coverage than what is available right now.
  • A Work Search Requirement That Creates Unnecessary, Costly, and Burdensome Obstacles to Obtaining Health Care.
    The Healthy Pennsylvania Proposal requires all newly eligible and many existing Medicaid recipients to prove that they applied for 12 jobs each month, even though the majority of people in need of Medicaid expansion are already working and the additional burden would be especially difficult for many Pennsylvanians currently on Medicaid, such as individuals with disabilities. Those who are unable to prove that they have met this requirement face severe consequences, including a lockout of coverage for up to nine months.
  • Severely Limited Access to Women’s Health Services
    The Healthy Pennsylvania Proposal seeks to (a) exclude coverage for family planning services, (b) prohibit the ability of Medicaid enrollees to choose the provider of family planning services, and (c) prevent access to robust provider networks by allowing enrollment in private plans offered outside of the Marketplace.
  • An Implied End to SelectPlan for Women
    The Healthy Pennsylvania Proposal does not explicitly state that Pennsylvania plans to end SelectPlan for Women; however, the threat is apparent. SelectPlan has extended coverage for Medicaid to uninsured women between 18 and 44 years of age whose incomes are below 185% of the federal poverty line since 2008, and it should be continued beyond its June 2014 expiration date.

Pennsylvania, which ranks 32nd out of 50 states regarding the status of women’s health, must do better to improve its citizen’s access to health care. To do so, Pennsylvania must shelve its flawed Healthy Pennsylvania Proposal and instead expand Medicaid.

For more information on each of these points, see WLP’s comments.

Also, for more information on poverty and women’s health, see the Women’s Law Project’s report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Health Care, Health insurance, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Women's health

Just Harvest Releases Barriers to Benefits Report: PA Health Program Fails to Deliver!

Aly Mance, WLP Intern

Just Harvest recently released their report titled Barriers to Benefits, which shows that Pennsylvania’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is failing to provide Pennsylvanians with the aid that they need.  Their research shows that there are chronic problems in the food stamp application process—particularly with the inability to successfully reach caseworkers and transmit paperwork.  These problems inhibit consumers from obtaining and maintaining benefits, hurting Pennsylvania families.

The numbers are shocking.  Just Harvest’s research found that 85% of their test calls could not reach a human being, and 66% of surveyed Food Stamp consumers reported disconnects while trying to reach caseworkers. 30% of survey participants also reported that the paperwork they provided was not processed in time for their health benefits to continue without interruption.  40% of survey participants reported waiting more than an hour and a half at the office to talk to a caseworker in person.  The numbers are clear: The County Assistance Offices are unable to properly respond to their workload, and it is having a negative impact on Pennsylvanians.

Just Harvest concludes their report with a well-thought out list of recommendations that the state’s Department of Public Welfare should take to improve the ability of citizens to obtain aid through SNAP.  The list of recommendations includes improving the phone systems, creating a system for confirmation notices when paperwork is received and alerts if documents are missing, regularly reporting data on dropped calls or lost documents to the public, increasing staff, and enforcing the standard that caseworkers treat all consumers with dignity and respect.  The Department of Public Welfare should certainly consider and act upon these recommendations in order to improve the SNAP program and better serve PA consumers.

It is important for us to remember, as Just Harvest points out in their mission statement, that “hunger is a symptom of poverty and that poverty is a product of social and economic injustice.”  We need to improve programs like SNAP in order to better the socioeconomic situation of Pennsylvanian women and their families.

For more information on Just Harvest, visit their website at http://www.justharvest.org.

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Filed under Economic Justice, food stamps, Pennsylvania, Welfare, Working poor

ALERT: ATHLETIC EQUITY REPORTING LAW UNDER ATTACK IN HARRISBURG!

Just last week, the first annual athletic gender equity reports were due from public secondary schools under a new state law that passed on June 30, 2012.  The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act (or Act 82 Article XVI-C) requires secondary schools to provide annual, publicly released reports containing information about school-sponsored athletic programs in order to improve schools’ compliance with Title IX and work towards achieving gender equality.

Sadly, efforts are currently underway in the state legislature to interfere with this law before the first reports are even publicly released.  On Tuesday, October 22, House Bill 1734 will be considered by the House Education Committee.  House Bill 1734 would repeal several crucial provisions of this important disclosure law.

  • HB 1734 would eliminate the requirement that schools report the      total value of booster club purchases for each team. (Significantly, this portion of the reporting law does not even take effect until next year.)  Some schools blame the inequality of their athletic programs on booster clubs, but in fact, schools are responsible for ensuring that boys and      girls have equal opportunities and experiences. HB 1734 would allow schools to remove from their annual reporting the privately raised money being poured into boys’ teams.
  • HB 1734 would repeal the requirement that, for the first year only, schools include the dates when each team was established. This      easily available information shows whether schools have a history and continuing practice of expanding the girls’ athletic program.
  • HB 1734 would sunset all reporting after just three years.

Passing HB 1734 virtually guarantees that parents and students will have to turn to other, more burdensome ways of learning about their schools’ compliance with state and federal gender equity laws.

The participation gap between boys and girls in interscholastic athletics is widening.  See Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports, Sharp Center & Women’s Sports Foundation, Oct. 2012.  Now is the wrong time to retreat from the mandate of equal opportunity and fair treatment for our girls.

What you can do:

  • Contact your state rep and urge him or her to vote NO on HB 1734 and stand up for gender equality.
  • Visit your local public high school’s website and see what its Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report has to say.
  • Can’t find a report from your school? Contact your school’s Title IX officer and ask where you can get a copy of the report.
  • Can’t find your school’s Title IX officer? Call your school’s superintendent and ask who the Title IX officer is and how you can get a copy of the Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report.
  • Not getting the information you are entitled to? Call the Women’s Law Project: 412-281-2892 or 215-928-9801.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Gender Discrimination, Girls, PA Law, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX, Women's Law Project

Pennsylvania is Failing Women

By Kate Michelman and Sue Frietsche

So much for Pennsylvania as the birthplace of freedom and democracy. A report last month from the Center for American Progress offered some alarming statistics about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the way   it treats the six million or so women who live here, assigning us a “C-” grade, and ranking our state 28th of the 50 states on women’s rights.

In fact, a quote from the report reads, “Pennsylvania stands out as one of the states that is among the worst in the nation for women. Across 36 factors of economic security, leadership, and health, Pennsylvania ranks 28th in the nation for how women are faring. This illustrates the long path ahead before women in Pennsylvania can get a fair shot at achieving economic security, reaching success, and living a healthy life.”

It goes from bad to worse in the report, whether it’s the fact that we scored a “D+” on economic factors for women (e.g., the 76 cents we still make to every dollar a man makes or the fact that 15% of us live in poverty), a “D” in leadership (our entire Congressional delegation contains one lone woman, and we hold less than 37% of the managerial positions in the state despite being 52% of the population), or a “C” in health (there is only one OB/GYN for approximately every 20,000 women in the state, we have the 12th highest infant mortality rate in the country, and our lawmakers are making it as difficult as possible for women to get reproductive health care).

It is beyond dispute that when the women of Pennsylvania do well, their families do well, their children thrive and communities prosper. That is reason enough for Pennsylvania to start climbing up from the bottom rungs of the 50 states.

But there is an even better reason, and simply put, it’s that Pennsylvania women deserve an equal shot at a good life. They deserve a state where they are treated equally at home, at work, and at school. They deserve a seat in the boardroom and at the table of government. They deserve a chance to live and work safely, with dignity – even when they’re pregnant or raising a family. They deserve the basic economic security essential to getting and staying healthy. They deserve the freedom to decide whether or not to have children in accordance with their beliefs, not under the boot of other people’s politics or religion.

So what can you do? Read the report, get motivated and do something about it. Get involved by getting smart about who you’re electing (or not electing) into office. Become an educated, vocal participant in exercising your civic duty, whether it’s visiting your legislators, writing letters to the editor, helping out at the polls – whatever inspires your civic passion. Above all, make your voice heard by voting, because Pennsylvania badly needs you in order to get back on the right track for our state’s women.

We’ve made great strides in the last 50 years, but a report like this shows we have miles to go. The women and men of Pennsylvania need to unite to effect real change for women, whether it is access to healthcare, economic security, or freedom from violence. And we need to pick up the pace while we’re at it. It’s simply taking too long to reach a place of true equality.

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Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an organization that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”

Sue Frietsche is a senior staff attorney in the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Economic Justice, economic security, Family Violence, Health Care, Pennsylvania, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Violence Against Women, Voter turnout, women voting, Women's health, Women's Law Project, women's rights, WomenVote PA, working mothers, working women