Republicans have done everything they could think of to repeal, defund, undermine and otherwise disrupt Obamacare. But they’ve failed, and that’s why they’ve turned to a last-ditch strategy to stop the law and take away the rights of millions of Americans to get the health care they need.
Governors and state legislators are adopting state laws and regulations to sabotage the work of “navigators,” the community organizations that will help consumers sign up for care. We are witnessing navigator suppression, and the Republicans’ objective is simple: the harder they make it for navigators to do their jobs, the harder it will be for people to benefit from Obamacare.
Republican governors in 21 states are already denying more than 5 million people health care by refusing to expand Medicaid. Navigator suppression is another way for the Obamacare haters to pile on and limit the reach of the law.
In a new report, Health Care for America Now conducted a detailed review of the most egregious laws and regulations found in 13 selected states: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. These states are home to 17 million people without health insurance who are eligible for coverage under the health care reform law–fully 41 percent of the nation’s uninsured.
The excessive requirements we found include such things as residency rules, extra fees, additional and unnecessary training requirements, superfluous certification exams, and prohibitions against navigators talking with consumers about the benefits offered by different plans. These measures constitute direct interference in the enrollment process.
For example, in Missouri, state and local officials are barred from providing any assistance to an exchange. In Florida, the Department of Health released a directive prohibiting navigators from conducting outreach at any of the county’s 67 health departments. Fortunately, two big counties, Broward and Pinellas, are ignoring the order.
And just this month, Texas Gov. Rick Perry ordered the Insurance Commissioner to write new navigator regulations that require, among other things, that navigators complete 40 hours of training in addition to the 20 hours required by the ACA and then pass a “rigorous” state exam. Perry is even trying to limit the hours of navigator operations to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. None of these rules is going to help get people covered in Texas, which has the nation’s highest percentage of uninsured residents.
These roadblocks and restrictions have caused groups to withdraw from the program and return their navigator grants. This is why President Obama in Maryland today criticized the Republicans for creating these sorts of “roadblocks” for the “churches and charities” working as navigators to educate the public about enrollment.
The Republicans claim these laws are about protecting consumers. But Georgia’s commissioner of insurance cleared that up when he boasted on video that he was doing everything he could to be “an obstructionist” to Obamacare.
Some of the Obamacare opponents may think they’re attacking the President or the law, but mostly they’re hurting real people with real health care needs. They’re making it harder for people to buy health care. This isn’t just an abstract political debate. For people without health insurance, this is about whether or not they can get medical care and get it without going bankrupt.
In a growing number of states, navigators are turning back their grants to help consumers because of navigator suppression policies.
Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, for example, which was planning to enroll people at three hospitals, turned back $124,000 in federal grant money because of state restrictions that went into effect this past July.
Cardon Outreach was going to educate people in Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and Utah. It returned its $833,000 grant.
In West Virginia, the Attorney General, Patrick Morrisey, a vocal opponent of the ACA, launched a harassment campaign against one of his state’s navigators, West Virginia Parent Training and Information. Morrisey posed dozens of questions to the group about its navigator program and gave them only 14 business days to respond. Instead, the organization decided to send back its $366,000 enrollment grant.
The Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council along the Texas border with Mexico just returned $288,000 in navigator grant funds this week in response to Perry’s attack, and four other Texas navigator groups reportedly may follow suit.
These state officials have taken their cues from members of Congress. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to 51 groups in 11 states, including food banks, legal aid societies, and United Way organizations. The committee demanded that these groups produce reams of paperwork about their operations and schedule a briefing of the committee by Sept. 13. The only purpose of the inquiry was to interfere with the ability of these groups to prepare for enrollment. That’s sabotage, and it’s a politically motivated abuse of power.
Many of the states now going after navigators are also passing laws to suppress voter registration and make it harder for minority, low-income and elderly residents to participate in elections. Just like voter suppression, enrollment suppression is an attack on people’s right to be healthy and free from financial hardship and bankruptcy.
That’s why navigator suppression shocks the conscience: it perpetuates the systematic denial of affordable health care to huge numbers of the most vulnerable individuals in our society, especially those in minority and lower-income populations.
Thanks to Obamacare, Americans no longer have to worry about getting the health care they need. They only have to worry about the Republicans taking it away.
By: Ethan Rome, Executive Director, Health Care for America Now; Health Care for America Now Blog, September 26, 2013
I’ve just begun my second four-year term as president of the National Organization for Women. I was reelected — by acclamation, I’m proud to say — at NOW’s 2013 Conference in Chicago over the July 4th weekend.
My vision for the next four years of activism begins with something that’s long overdue — the election of a women president of the United States.
And not just any woman. A feminist woman who will stand up for our issues against those who would turn the clock back to the 1950′s.
Women need to be thinking — and acting — for the long-term, not just for this year’s elections or next year’s. We need to be preparing for the next president, and the ones after that. That’s what our adversaries have been doing.
As the grassroots arm of the women’s movement, NOW is strong and getting stronger. We are focusing our power — the power of a whole lot of pissed-off women — identifying targets and achieving goals.
As we look towards the 2014 elections, we know that the stakes couldn’t be higher. The radical fringe that controls the Republican party is chomping at the bit for a replay of 2010, and this time they mean to take over the Senate as well as the House.
The Supreme Court has just made our job harder by eviscerating Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now dozens of state and local jurisdictions, freed from having to pre-clear changes in their voting laws with the U.S. Department of Justice, will race to erect new barriers against voting by such “undesirable” voters as people of color, seniors, immigrants and younger citizens.
We are committed to restoring the Act, and correcting the Supreme Court’s sordid attempt to enhance the political power of those who already have so much.
Beyond our electoral challenges, NOW is doubling down on fighting for women’s economic security. We support the initiative launched last week by House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Congresswoman Doris Matsui (D-CA), Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D-MD), and House Democratic women to address real economic needs facing women and families: ensuring equal pay for equal work, promoting work and family balance, and providing access to quality, affordable child care.
As Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro said,
Women are really struggling financially. They are looking for an increase in the minimum wage and equal pay, so they can raise their income, support their families and have a chance for a better life. So today, 165 years after the Women’s Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, we are launching a woman’s economic agenda to address these severe financial pressures. Raising wages for millions of struggling women is central to ensuring work pays for them and their families. Closing the wage gap, increasing the minimum wage, expanding educational opportunities and supporting women entrepreneurs are crucial to making sure that women — and America — succeed.
Of course, wage security isn’t the only linchpin of economic equality for women. We need access to the full range of reproductive health services, because, as this Valerie Tarico column in the Huffington Post says, “Anybody who says that talking about reproductive rights is a distraction from talking about economics is not running the numbers.”
Unintended pregnancies push women out of the workforce, keep women from earning their full potential as business leaders, contribute to absenteeism and lost wages and throw state and federal budgets out of whack. According to the Guttmacher Institute, every public dollar spent on contraception saves three dollars that would otherwise be spent on Medicaid payments for pregnancy-related and newborn care.
Another enormous economic burden facing women is the crushing cost of student loans. As Elizabeth Warren, the sponsor of the Bank on Student Loan Fairness Act has said,
Students owe more than $1 trillion in student loan debt — more than all the credit card debt in the entire country. But they didn’t go on a shopping spree at the mall–they did exactly what we told them to do. They worked hard, they played by the rules, and they got an education.
As I wrote in this column for the Huffington Post, because women are paid less than men are paid after college, student loan repayments eat up a larger part of women’s earnings.
Like a bad penny, economic insecurity follows women through school, in the workplace, at home, and far too often, in what should be a safe and secure retirement.
This year, we are rolling out NOW’s Campaign to Break the Social Security Glass Ceiling to add a good offense to our ongoing defense against cuts in this crucial program.
We are calling for a range of improvements in benefits for women — including a caregiver credit, so women will no longer be penalized in their retirement years for having dropped out of the paid workforce to care for children or family members; a higher minimum benefit for low-wage workers (who are, very disproportionately, women); modernized rules for divorced and widowed spouses; and equal treatment for same-sex couples and their families — and we show how to pay for it by requiring the wealthiest to pay their fair share into the system.
Simultaneously, our national action campaign to Let Them Put a Ring On It expands and deepens NOW’s commitment to achieving equal marriage rights in all states, at all levels of government. We’ll engage NOW’s chapter leaders and activists to press for passage of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would repeal DOMA including the provisions not struck down by the Supreme Court. And we’ll ramp up our work with coalition partners in key states to reverse anti-marriage measures and pass laws recognizing the full rights of loving, committed same-sex couples.
As NOW feminists, our goal is nothing short of radical inclusiveness, as we work to build an organization, a movement, and a society that values diversity and upholds respect for every single woman and girl, no matter where she comes from, what she looks like, where she works or who she loves. We are stronger together, and united for equality.
By: Terry O’Neill, President, National Organization for Women; The Huffington Post Blog, August 5, 2013
Our 50 states seem to be united in name only.
In fact, we seem to be increasingly becoming two countries under one flag: Liberal Land — coastal, urban and multicultural — separated by Conservative Country — Southern and Western, rural and racially homogeneous. (Other parts of the country are a bit of a mixed bag.)
This has led to incredible and disturbing concentrations of power.
As The New York Times reported after the election in November, more than two-thirds of the states are now under single-party control, meaning that one party has control of the governor’s office and has majorities in both legislative chambers.
This is the highest level of such control since 1952. And Republicans have single-party control in nearly twice as many states as Democrats.
This is having very real consequences on the ground, nowhere more clearly than on the subjects of voting rights and women’s reproductive rights.
Almost all jurisdictions covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — the section that requires federal approval for any change in voting procedures and that the Supreme Court effectively voided last month — are in Republican-controlled states.
So, many of those states have wasted no time following the court ruling to institute efforts to suppress the vote in the next election and beyond.
Within two hours of the Supreme Court ruling, Texas announced that a voter identification law that the Department of Justice had blocked for two years because “Hispanic registered voters are more than twice as likely as non-Hispanic registered voters to lack such identification” would go into effect, along with a redistricting map passed in 2011 but blocked by a federal court.
The department is trying to prevent those actions in Texas, but it’s unclear whether the state or the feds will prevail.
Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina have also moved forward with voter ID bills that had already passed but were being held up by the Justice Department. (Virginia has passed a bill that’s scheduled to go into effect next year.)
And on Wednesday, a federal court gave Florida the go-ahead to resume its controversial voter purge by dismissing a case filed against the state that had been rendered moot by the Supreme Court decision.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is not surprised by this flurry. She voted with the minority on the Voting Rights Act case, and she wrote in a strongly worded dissent: “The sad irony of today’s decision lies in its utter failure to grasp why the VRA has proved effective. The Court appears to believe that the VRA’s success in eliminating the specific devices extant in 1965 means that preclearance is no longer needed.”
She continued, “With that belief, and the argument derived from it, history repeats itself.”
History does appear to be doing just that. In an interview this week with The Associated Press, Ginsburg reiterated her displeasure with the court’s decision and her lack of surprise at what it has wrought, saying, “And one really could have predicted what was going to happen.” She added, “I didn’t want to be right, but sadly I am.”
While Republicans may claim that voter ID laws are about the sanctity of the vote, Republican power brokers know they’re about much more: suppressing the votes of people likely to vote Democratic.
Last week Rob Gleason, the Pennsylvania Republican Party chairman, discussed the effects of his state’s voter ID laws on last year’s presidential election, acknowledging to the Pennsylvania Cable Network: “We probably had a better election. Think about this: we cut Obama by 5 percent, which was big. A lot of people lost sight of that. He won — he beat McCain by 10 percent; he only beat Romney by 5 percent. I think that probably voter ID helped a bit in that.”
And on women’s reproductive rights, as the Guttmacher Institute reported earlier this month, “In the first six months of 2013, states enacted 106 provisions related to reproductive health and rights.” The report continued, “Although initial momentum behind banning abortion early in pregnancy appears to have waned, states nonetheless adopted 43 restrictions on access to abortion, the second-highest number ever at the midyear mark and is as many as were enacted in all of 2012.”
A substantial majority of the new restrictive measures — which include bans on abortion outside incredibly restrictive time frames (at six weeks after the woman’s last period in North Dakota), burdensome regulations on abortion clinics and providers, and forced ultrasounds — were enacted in states with Republican-controlled legislatures.
These are just two issues among many in which the cleaving of this country is becoming an incontrovertible fact, as we drift back toward bifurcation.
By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 26, 2013
Dr. John J. Sciarra remembers his time as a young doctor in New York City nearly half a century ago. He remembers watching young women die from botched, illegal abortions because they had no safe options. At the time, he felt powerless to help them, and that fact haunted him.
That’s why he decided to join 99 of his fellow OB-GYNs to express his support for legal abortion. In 1972, that group of doctors published a statement in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology to make the case that giving women the means to end their pregnancies is a public health issue. Their timing was prescient; Roe v. Wade ended up legalizing abortion just one year later.
But, in the 40 years since, Sciarra has been surprised to see the state of reproductive rights moving backward instead of forward. “We did not anticipate the backlash that has turned abortion into an ideological battleground,” the retired doctor writes in a op-ed published in the Chicago Tribune on Friday. “So I have again joined 99 of my fellow professors of obstetrics and gynecology in another statement on the issue, published earlier this year, in the very same American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.”
In the new statement, Sciarra and 99 of his colleagues point out that even though abortion has been legalized and medical practice has evolved to accommodate a new range of reproductive care, the politicization of the issue still threatens to derail women’s reproductive rights. When Sciarra first advocated for abortion rights back in the 1970s, he and his fellow OB-GYNs imagined that the “increasingly liberal course of events” in the U.S. would create a rising demand for abortion care. They thought the biggest problem facing the country would be a shortage of doctors available to perform abortions. It turns out they were wrong — the biggest problem is actually the web of state-level abortion restrictions that come between women and their doctors.
“We have had 40 years of medical progress but have witnessed political regression that the 100 professors did not anticipate,” their official statement noted. “Forty years later, the change is not liberal. Its effects will threaten, not improve, women’s health and already obstruct physicians’ evidence-based and patient-centered practices.”
Sciarra is just one of two OB-GYNs who signed both statements — the original one before Roe v. Wade, and the new one earlier this year — because most of the doctors who signed on four decades ago have since passed away. Sciarra notes that none of the doctors who signed the 1972 statement ever changed their minds and rescinded their support for legal abortion rights. And now, a new generation of medical professionals is reaffirming that position with the 2013 statement.
The doctors’ new statement is well-timed. Despite the fact that Roe marked its 40th anniversary recently, reproductive rights are being chipped away from every angle. And 2013 is shaping up to be one of the worst years for reproductive freedom since abortion was first legalized. State legislatures have enacted a record-breaking number of new abortion restrictions this year, including some of the harshest bans ever seen in the past four decades.
Sciarra and his colleagues aren’t the only medical professionals coming out against the mounting pile of politically-motivated abortion restrictions. The nation’s largest group of OB-GYNs, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, also recently condemned anti-abortion laws for “imposing a political agenda on medical practice.”
By: Tara Culp-Ressler, Think Progress, July 11, 2013
If you feel unsafe at a public pool in Charleston, WV, you may soon have the right to lie there on a towel with a handgun at your side.
For 20 years, Charleston has been an island of modest gun restrictions in a very pro-gun-rights state. But its gun laws — including a ban on guns in city parks, pools and recreation centers — are now likely to be rolled back, the latest victory in a long-standing push to deny cities the power to regulate guns
Since the 1980s, the National Rifle Association and other groups have led a successful campaign to get state legislatures to limit local control over gun regulations. These “preemption” laws block cities from enacting their own gun policies, effectively requiring cities with higher rates of gun violence to have the same gun regulations as smaller towns.
Before 1981, when an Illinois town banned the possession of handguns, just a handful of states had preemption laws on the books. Today, 42 states block cities from making gun laws, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Even Illinois, which has long allowed its cities to pass gun control measures, is about to invalidate local restrictions on concealed handguns and ban any future local regulation of assault weapons.
Gun rights advocates argue that allowing cities to have their own gun laws creates an impossible situation for law-abiding gun owners, who cannot be expected to read ordinances for every town they might pass through.
The preemption campaign has racked up so many victories nationwide, it’s now focusing on holdouts like Charleston, population 51,000.
Charleston’s current gun restrictions include a three-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and a limit of one handgun purchase per month, as well as bans on guns on publicly owned property, such as parks and pools.
West Virginia Delegate Patrick Lane crafted an amendment to an unrelated state bill, now passed, that will likely force Charleston to erase those restrictions.
“Crime could happen anyplace. You obviously want to be able to defend yourself and your family if something happens,” Lane said, when asked why anyone would want to bring a gun to a public pool.
The NRA did not respond to requests for comment, but its website calls Charleston’s restrictions “misguided” and “unreasonable.” Its site has closely tracked the progress of the repeal of the ordinances, which it states “would have no negative impact whatsoever on Charleston.” The site has repeatedly criticized Charleston’s Republican mayor for “speaking out publicly against this pro-gun reform.”
It’s not clear what effect the spread of preemption has had on public safety. “It’s very hard to determine what causes crime to go up and down, because there are so many variables,” said Laura Cutilletta, a senior attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
But in Charleston, Police Chief Brent Webster says he’s worried about losing the city’s current restrictions, in particular the law banning guns at city pools, concerts and sporting events.
“You will have some citizens say, ‘I can do that now, so I’m going to do that,’” Webster said. “I am greatly concerned.”
“When they’re diving off the diving board, is that [gun] going to be in a book bag? Is that going to be lying under their towel and an eight-year-old kid is walking through the pool area and picks it up?”
Two of the city’s former police chiefs also say they’re worried about losing the ban on guns in public places that attract kids.
“That has nothing to do with the Second Amendment right. It has to do with public safety,” former Chief Dallas Staples said.
Charleston’s mayor, Danny Jones, who’s fought to keep the gun restrictions, said the city now has no choice but to do what the state legislature wants and roll them back. The state legislature packaged the rollback requirement with a popular measure giving Charleston more leeway in how it raises taxes.
“I’m still reeling from all this, because it’s going to affect us in a very negative way,” Jones told reporters after the law passed.
Keith Morgan, president of the West Virginia Citizen’s Defense League, a gun rights group, said the group has been pushing for an end to Charleston’s ordinances for years, and that the change would protect law-abiding gun owners from a “minefield” of conflicting local laws.
Lane, the West Virginia delegate, also said that gun-owning commuters were put at risk as they traveled through different cities with different rules.
But neither Lane nor Morgan could cite an example of a gun owner being prosecuted for accidentally breaking the law during their commute, or by accidentally wandering into a city park. When Morgan himself once showed up at the Charleston Civic Center with a gun, he said, he was simply asked to leave, and he did. In lawsuits the West Virginia Citizen’s Defense League filed against gun ordinances in Charleston and Martinsburg, the plaintiffs cited their fear of potential prosecution.
The main burden of Charleston’s laws for gun owners has been the inconvenience of waiting three days to purchase a handgun, and only being able to buy one handgun at a time — something that can be particularly troublesome “if you’re buying a present for your family and there happens to be a Christmas sale at the retailer,” Lane said.
Former Charleston law enforcement officers say the handgun restrictions, passed in 1993, helped the city tamp down on the drugs-for-guns trade that was rampant at the time. But since then, gun stores have sprung up right at the city’s borders, said Steve Walker, a former Charleston police officer and now president of the West Virginia branch of the Fraternal Order of Police.
“Honestly, I don’t know whether with them repealing it, it is going to help them or hurt them,” Walker said of the handgun restrictions.
State legislators said that city officials are overplaying their fears.
“I don’t see everyone with a concealed carry permit deciding to go to a pool and carry a gun,” said Democrat Mark Hunt, a state delegate, “So what if they do? They’re law-abiding citizens.”
Charleston’s mayor said he has a plan if somebody brings a gun poolside: “We’re going to close down the pool.”
By: Lois Beckett, Pro Publica, June 3, 2013