who helped make our 25th anniversary with Jeremy Scahill a success!
For those who missed the event, or were there and really wanted to fully absorb its import, here it is in video
"How Do We Build A Mass Movement to Reverse Runaway Inequality?" with Les Leopold, author of "Runaway Inequality: An Activist's Guide to Economic Justice,"May 22, 2016, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, The City University of New York, 860 11th Ave. (Between 58th and 59th), New York City. Between The Lines' Scott Harris and Richard Hill moderated this workshop. Listen to the audio/slideshows and more from this workshop.
Listen to audio of the plenary sessions from the weekend.
Listen to the full interview (30:33) with Jeremy Scahill, an award-winning investigative journalist with the Nation Magazine, correspondent for Democracy Now! and author of the bestselling book, "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," about America's outsourcing of its military. In an exclusive interview with Counterpoint's Scott Harris on Sept. 16, 2013, Scahill talks about his latest book, "Dirty Wars, The World is a Battlefield," also made into a documentary film under the same title, and was nominated Dec. 5, 2013 for an Academy Award in the Best Documentary Feature category.
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"For Natives, a "Day of Mourning"by Reginald Johnson, November 23, 2016
"A Bitter Harvest" by Reginald Johnson, Nov. 15, 2016
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Posted Jan. 8, 2014
Interview with Sharon Levin, director of Federal Reproductive Health Policy with the National Women's Law Center, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
Jan. 1, 2014 marked the start date for several important provisions of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, and, despite the shaky rollout of the federal website in the fall, more than 2.1 million Americans have signed up for private health insurance through the federal and state health exchanges. That's in addition to the 3 million young adults who have been able to retain health coverage under their parents' insurance policies, and the addition of 3.9 million Americans now eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program in states that agreed to expand Medicaid eligibility paid for by federal funds. Several of the new health insurance provisions relate specifically to women.
Reacting to Obamacare’s mandate that both for-profit and non-profit employers must cover the cost of birth control for their employees, the Denver, Colorado-based Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged and other non-profits asked the Supreme Court to halt enforcement of that provision. On New Year's Eve, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor responded to the Little Sisters challenge by issuing an injunction, stopping implementation of the measure, pending a response from the Obama administration.
Under the Affordable Care Act, religious institutions are exempt from the mandate to provide contraceptives, but nonprofit religious-affiliated groups, such as church-run hospitals, religious schools and charities must either provide no-cost contraception coverage or have a third-party insurer provide separate benefits without the employer's direct involvement. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Sharon Levin, director of Federal Reproductive Health Policy with the National Women's Law Center, about both the positive new developments for women under Obamacare and the possibility that the courts could deny women birth control coverage because their employers consider such coverage to be a violation of their moral beliefs and religious liberty.
SHARON LEVIN: There are a number of provisions in Obamacare that are reallly important to help women. One is the repeal of what is called gender rating. And basically, health insurance plans were charging women higher premiums just because they were women. They were treated being a woman like it was a pre-existing condition. And Obamacare repeals that as of yesterday, so as of Jan. 1, plans can no longer gender-rate, which is really important because it means men and women will be treated equally.
Another provision that went into effect yesterday is that plans can no longer charge more for people with pre-existing conditions generally, and that was a really important provision to help women and anyone with a pre-existing condition.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Can you explain the origin of the exclusion of coverage for those with pre-existing conditions? Those seem to be the people who need insurance the most.
SHARON LEVIN: Basically, health insurance is a little bit like legal gambling. Health plans want to bet, when they take your policy, that they're not going to have to pay out on your policy, right, so the money they get in from your premiums is all profit, because if they have to pay out, they're actually losing moeny. Their goal is to get as many young, healthy people into their plans as possible, because they're betting then that they won't have to pay out. So if you get somebody on your plan who has a pre-existing condition, you're going to have to pay out for health services for them, because you already know they have a condition that requres medical attention. And so basically, the plans didn't want to spend the money and tried to keep people out of the plans that they would actually have to pay money for. That's why people with pre-existing conditions were kept out of plans; that's why, historically, a lot of plans didn't cover maternity benefits, because that's expensive. And a lot of the policies that the plans had in place before Obamacare were ironic, as you said, because (those who) most needed medical services, were being kept off insurance.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Is including these previously excluded people from coverage going to raise rates for them or for everyone, since they'll be using more health care?
SHARON LEVIN: It shouldn't. It depends on where they get their coverage, but in most group health plans, if you're getting your coverage through your employer, it shouldn't affect it.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Are there other aspects of the law that benefit women?
SHARON LEVIN: Another provision that's very important for women is a provision that went into effect in 2012 that requires a set of important preventive health services for women, including contraception, to be covered without cost-sharing. And we've heard from women all over the country who are excited that they've been able to get their pill prescription filled, for example, without a co-pay, and they've sent us copies of their receipts from the drug store that have a 0 down for how much they were charged out of pocket.
BETWEEN THE LINES: That's really good news, but speaking of birth control, there's been this big fight over which non-profits, if they're religiously affiliated or even private for-profit companies that don't approve of birth control, which ones will be exempt from having to provide that coverage? And on Jan. 2, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor stayed the implementation of the requirement for certain organizations. Can you run down the different kinds of entities and how they can be exempt?
SHARON LEVIN: There are some employers who have objected to the contraceptive coverage provision because they claim it infringes on their religious rights. And there are a couple of things to keep in mind about this. First, allowing an employee to use their own health benefits that they've earned as part of their compensation doesn't really impact employers' religious rights. It's part of the compensation a worker has earned. And basically, bosses should not be making women's health decisions. A boss should not be able to decide whether a woman can use contraception; that's a decision a woman should be making along with her health provider. In addition, employees have religious rights, and they have the right not to have their boss' religion imposed on them. You asked about the type of employers, and there are really three sets of employers. The first is houses of worship; if you're a church or a synagogue you don't have to abide by this rule; there's a regulation that exempts you. So churches don't have to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. There's a second group which are some non-profits that were really created for religious purposes and hold themselves out as having a religious purpose, and they can be accommodated, which means they don't have to provide contraceptive coverage – they have to let their insurance company know that they won't provide it, and then their insurance company provides it. So that way, the women still get the coverage they need, and that's the important thing. The third group of employers who have sued are for-profit companies, who want to get out from this contraceptive coverage provision, and it's very dangerous that a for-profit company could be able to say that they don't want to abide by a law that was created to protect employees based on their assertion of a religious right, because, as I said before, employees have religious rights, and the government has an interest in protecting the health needs of employees. We have a lot of laws out there that protect employees, and it would be a very dangerous precedent if for-profit employers could just opt out of them. And it raised a very important issue: Can a company have religious beliefs? These companies were not created to further religious beliefs; they were created to make a profit for their owners. Should a company that's in business to make a profit be able to opt out from laws that protect their employees? That's really the question at issue here.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Do you think as more people are covered by different elements of the health care law that it's going to be harder to overturn it or take up time over and over in Congress trying to overturn it?
SHARON LEVIN: Yes, I think it will make it much more difficult and I think once people begin to be able to take advantage of the health care law; they won't want those benefits taken away. The fact that we are having legal fights about contraception in the year 2014 is mind-boggling. It's a widely used form of preventive health services; the vast majority of women use it at some point in their lives.
For more perspectives on the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate, visit Federal Reproductive Health Policy with the National Women's Law Center at nwlc.org.