1

Barbara Lee leads effort to widen abortion access

Rep. Barbara Lee and two other House members led 70 Democrats in introducing a bill Wednesday that would require Medicaid and other taxpayer-funded health insurance to provide coverage for abortions.

The Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act, or the EACH Woman Act, essentially would end the Hyde Amendment policy – a legislation “rider” attached to annual spending bills since 1976 that bans use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion except in cases of incest or rape.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“Each and every day, the rights of women are under attack in America – today, we push back because every person has a right to healthcare,” Lee, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “The EACH Woman Act is a bold and groundbreaking step forward. This legislation would ensure that every woman can access all of her healthcare options, regardless of how much money she earns or where she lives.”

“Regardless of how someone personally feels about abortion, none of us, especially elected officials, should be interfering with a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions just because she is poor.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., joined Lee in introducing the bill – which probably is dead on arrival in the Republican-controlled House.

Lee’s office quoted a recent poll by Hart Research which found 86 percent of voters agreed that “however we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage because she is poor.” Support for that statement was strong across all age ranges, and stood at 79 percent of Republican surveyed.

The bill is supported by 33 national and state organizations. Policies like the Hyde Amendment and state insurance bans have withheld coverage for safe, legal abortion care for too long, said Vicki Saporta, president and CEO of the National Abortion Federation.

“It’s unconscionable that we have allowed politicians to take away some women’s decisions just because of where they live or their income level,” Saporta said. “The EACH Woman Act would ensure health coverage for abortion for every woman no matter what type of insurance she has, where she lives, or how much money she has.”

Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said most Americans agree a woman enrolled in Medicaid should have all of her pregnancy-related healthcare covered by insurance, including abortion.

“And among young people and people of color, that opinion is a tidal wave,” she said. “We are ready to change the game in Washington. We are organized, making phone calls, knocking on doors, and paying visits to our members of Congress. We are ready to do what it takes to make Hyde history.”

National Right to Life, the nation’s oldest and largest anti-abortion-rights organization, didn’t answer an email Wednesday seeking comment on the legislation.

UPDATE @ 10:19 A.M. THURSDAY: Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, got back to me Thursday morning.

“There is empirical evidence that well over one million Americans are alive today because of the Hyde Amendment, probably much closer to two million,” he said. “The one to two million Americans alive today because of the Hyde Amendment include, no doubt, many constituents of Congresswoman Lee. We think that each of these human lives has great worth. Contrary to the premises of the bill, we believe that pregnancy is not a disease, and we believe that elective abortion is not health care.”

3

SD7: Steve Glazer gets his committee assignments

State Sen. Steve Glazer, the Bay Area’s newest lawmaker, will serve on the Governmental Organization, Insurance, and Public Safety committees, Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon announced Thursday.

Glazer, D-Orinda, defeated Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla in May 19’s 7th State Senate District special election after a bitterly fought campaign rife with independent spending on both sides. The former Orinda mayor was sworn into the Senate last Thursday, May 28.

6

Poll #s tanking, Props. 45 and 46 go on offense

As the Field Poll shows Proposition 46 all but done for and Proposition 45 struggling, backers of both those controversial, health-related measures went on the offensive Thursday by filing official complaints against their foes and challenging a big insurance company’s spending.

Prop. 46 author Bob Pack of Danville, whose two children were killed in 2003 by a drugged driver, filed a complaint with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission claiming the No on 46 committee violated state laws that require disclosure of major funders.

Insurance companies have contributed $42.8 million of the $56.5 million given to the No on 46 campaign, Pack says, and state law requires campaign committees to describe in descending order their major donors. Yet the No on 46 campaign committee is officially known as “No on 46 – Patients, Providers and Healthcare Insurers to Contain Health Costs.”

“How dare the insurance industry claim the mantle of ‘patients’ after blocking life-saving patient safety reforms for decades,” Pack said in a news release. “No on 46’s misleading attack ads, funded by mostly insurance industry money, pretend that they are a public campaign for patients. California’s TV and radio stations have a duty to the public to take these ads down until voters are told the insurance industry is really behind No on 46.”

Proposition 46 would raise the $250,000 cap on “pain and suffering” damages in medical malpractice cases; require random drug tests for doctors; and force doctors to use an existing prescription database to weed out drug abusers.

The campaign for it is being run by Consumer Watchdog, a lawyer-funded nonprofit advocacy group that’s also behind Proposition 45, which would give the state insurance commissioner power to reject health-insurance rate hikes.

Consumer Watchdog President Jamie Court filed his own FPPC complaint Thursday arguing the No on 45 campaign’s name and radio ads don’t identify “health insurance companies” – the source of the $37.5 million to the campaign – as a major donor. But several insurers are listed by name, including Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc., Wellpoint Inc. and Blue Shield of California.

My read: This is a small-ball attempt to further publicize insurers’ role in the campaigns, a role that’s already been widely reported. Court said it himself in today’s story, describing why he believes Prop. 46 isn’t a lost cause despite cratering poll numbers among likely voters: “All we have to do is tell them that it’s the insurance companies on the opposing side lying to them.”

Court, California Nurses Association members and other Prop. 45 supporters will be rallying at 1:30 p.m. Thursday outside Blue Shield’s headquarters on San Francisco’s Beale Street to deliver 22,000 petition signatures decrying the insurer’s purchase of a costly luxury skybox at the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

Blue Shield’s decision to spend money on the skybox underscores the need for Prop. 45, they argue, so the insurance commissioner can reject excessive rate hikes that then pay for such luxuries.

24

Danville couple’s MICRA measure will be on ballot

A measure that would raise California’s decades-old limit on medical-negligence awards and force doctors to check a statewide database before prescribing narcotic drugs, put forth by a Danville couple whose two children were killed by a drugged driver in 2003, has qualified for November’s ballot.

Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s office said the measure needed at least 555,236 projected valid signatures to qualify by random sampling, and it exceeded that threshold Thursday. Bob and Carmen Pack had announced in March that they had submitted 840,000 signatures.

“The patient safety protections in this ballot measure will save lives and protect families from dangerous, impaired and drug dealing doctors,” Bob Pack said in an statement issued Thursday. “Today, California voters have taken the first step in making sure that more families like mine don’t have to experience the pain of losing a child due to dangerous medicine. No family should suffer because a doctor recklessly prescribes pills to an addict, is a substance abuser, or commits repeated acts of medical negligence.”

The measure would index for inflation the state’s cap on malpractice recovery – now fixed at $250,000 – for those without wage loss or medical bills. The Packs were entitled to recover only this $250,000 limit for each of their children’s lives; they note that $250,000 in 1975, when the cap was enacted as part of the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA), would be worth only about $58,000 today. Adjusted for inflation, the cap would now be around $1.1 million.

The measure also would require random drug testing of doctors to prevent physician substance abuse, and require that doctors use the state’s existing prescription drug database to weed out doctor-shopping drug abusers like the one who killed the Packs’ kids.

The measure is supported by trial attorneys, but is staunchly opposed by medical and business groups.

“We always knew this flawed measure was bad for the pocketbooks of everyday Californians, but the more they read the fine print, the more they realize it’s equally bad for their personal privacy,” Jim DeBoo, manager of the campaign against the measure, said in a statement issued Thursday. “If this measure passes, it will mandate a database that isn’t properly working and open the privacy floodgates to the sensitive personal medical data of millions of Californians with no increased security safeguards or funding. It’s a hacker’s dream – and a privacy nightmare.”

Opponents had about $31.9 million cash on hand as of March 31, while supporters had about $42,000.

2

SF Sheriff wants to sign inmates up for insurance

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi wants authority to help county jail inmates submit applications for health insurance under the nation’s new law.

Mirkarimi proposes that San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors pass an ordinance to designate his department for such work. It would be one of the first county jail systems in the nation so designated.

The sheriff said many inmates have mental health problems, addictions and other chronic health problems, yet have neither health insurance nor money to pay for medical care after they’re released. Coverage provided under the state’s newly expanded Medi-Cal program for the poor, or bought with a subsidy through the Covered California insurance exchange, would aid these inmates’ re-entry into the community and “have the potential to positively affect public health and recidivism,” his news release said.

27

More reactions to Obama’s health insurance delay

We’ll be posting a full story about reactions to President Obama’s plan to delay cancellation of some individual health insurance plans that don’t meet standards set by the nation’s new law, but here are a few pols for whom we didn’t have space in that article.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., called the president’s proposal a “good step” that’s “very helpful in the implementation of the law.” She also spoke on the Senate floor Thursday about Republicans’ constant opposition to this law.

“This is typical of Republicans through the generations. Every time we’ve tried to expand health care, they’ve opposed it and opposed it and tried to derail it,” she said, adding that the new insurance law can be fixed “but that’s not good enough for my Republican friends. They just want to tear it down, just like they wanted to tear down Medicare.”

Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, said in an email that he supports the president’s fix, which “continues to provide more choices without undermining the strengths of the new health care law. Implementing any new law creates a few bumps. We should be look for minor tweaks that strengthen the law rather than return to the old system that left millions of Americans without quality coverage.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, issued a statement calling Obama’s proposal “a step in the right direction towards fixing issues with the health care law. This was a promise that was made and it is a promise that should be kept.”

“I’ve said from the beginning that the health care reform law isn’t perfect,” Thompson said. “But instead of engaging in partisan bickering and playing blame games, I want to work to make health care reform better. … If we quit the partisan games, we can build on the reforms made in Obamacare, work out the imperfections, and make sure every American can get quality, affordable health insurance. That is a goal worth fighting for.”