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Thursday
Jan252018

The march for women’s health is far from over!

Our fight continues in Washington and across the country
 
Raising Women’s Voices marched for women’s health across the nation over weekend.  In New York City, for example, Raising Women’s Voices-NY graduate student intern Empress James raised our banner high in one of the largest of the weekend’s women’s marches.
 
Our fight continues this week in Washington, where Raising Women’s Voices staffers Sarah Christopherson, Kalena Murphy and Ann Danforth are attending the Families USA annual conference. Also on hand are some of our RWV regional coordinators, including Consumer Health First from Maryland, Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care,New Jersey Citizen Action and EverThrive Illinois. They’ll be connecting with other health care advocates and attending panels throughout the week to discuss what’s ahead in 2018, how we can work together to protect and expand women's health and LGBTQ health, and how can make real progress toward health equity.

This morning, they cheered on U.S. Senator Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, when he told the conference attendees, “We can’t say we are a country who believes in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness if all people do not have access to health care.”

Congress renews CHIP, but  fails to act on health centers, Dreamers
 
After a brief government shutdown over the weekend, Congress passed a short-term funding bill on Monday to re-open government through February 8—the fourth such stop-gap funding bill since the start of the 2018 fiscal year in October. We were relieved that after months of hostage-taking, Congress finally reauthorized the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years, providing needed coverage for nine million children. States that had already taken steps to freeze their enrollment and shutter their programs now have the certainty they need to get their programs back on track.

Unfortunately, the package passed this week leaves undone a number of key priorities. These include funding for community health centers, funding for disaster relief for Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands months after the islands were devastated by Hurricane Maria, and resolution of the future for 800,000 Dreamers, thousands of whom have already lost their legal status.
 
Congress delayed for several years certain taxes that were supposed to be imposed under the Affordable Care Act, such as the medical device tax, the tax on health insurance companies  and the “Cadillac tax” on high cost health plans. Those delays added more than $31 billion to the federal deficit without a “pay-for,” which means a corresponding cut in federal spending so that the result would be neutral from a budgetary standpoint.
 
But meanwhile, in an egregious example of a political double standard, Republicans in Congress have refused to fund community health centers without corresponding cuts to other health care programs. In the midst of a major flu epidemic that has already killed dozens of children and an ongoing opioid crisis, over a thousand community health centers around the country have been forced to postpone hiring, or even lay off staff.
 
The fate of the Dreamers is as uncertain as ever. Named for the DREAM Act, which would provide them with a pathway to citizenship, the Dreamers are undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, many of whom have known no other home.  In 2012, President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program by executive order, granting limited legal status and work authorization to the Dreamers. Under DACA and other Obama-era initiatives, DHS officials were directed to prioritize immigration enforcement against individuals with violent or criminal backgrounds.
 
In 2017, however, the Trump administration canceled DACA, rescinding legal protections for Dreamers after March 5, 2018, and directed immigration officials to arrest and deport otherwise law-abiding immigrants. Under Trump’s direction, immigration raids have been targeted at schools, churches, hospitals, workplaces, and even family courts, where undocumented victims of domestic violence have sought protection against abusive partners.
 
Unless Congress takes action, the end of DACA will be not only a looming humanitarian crisis, but also a health crisis. Over 90 percent of the Dreamers surveyed in a recent study are currently employed, and hundreds of thousands of them get their health insurance through their employer. So, loss of their work permits also means the loss of their health care. “At the Families USA conference this morning, Gaby Pechco of The Dream.US spelled out the consequences for Dreamers: “I’m not going to have my DACA anymore, which means I’m not going to have my job, which means I’m not going to have any health care, which means I won’t have access to the medication I need to have babies.”

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo took steps to protect the health of New York Dreamers who might lose their jobs.  He announced that the 42,000 New York Dreamers will still be eligible for state-funded Medicaid coverage, regardless of their immigration status. "The federal government's failure to take action to protect DACA recipients is appalling, un-American, unjust and puts hundreds of thousands of children at risk,” Cuomo said. “Here in New York we will do everything in our power to protect DACA recipients and ensure they receive health care.”
 
In exchange for re-opening the government this week, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) promised Democrats and moderate Republicans that the Senate would vote on a DACA package. But the House conservatives who determine whether current Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) retains his Speakership have sworn that the House won’t vote on the Senate package.
 
While pundits obsess over the horserace question of who “won” or “lost” the shutdown, the truth is that the fight has simply been delayed for three weeks. By February 9, the GOP’s long-standing hostility to the Dreamers won’t have faded, setting up the potential for another government shutdown. Fortunately this time around, the GOP will no longer be able to use CHIP as a cudgel.
 
Voters in Oregon approve funding for continued Medicaid expansion 

On Tuesday, Oregon voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that will protect access to health care for Oregon women and families by preserving Medicaid expansion in the state. Measure 101 will allow the state to continue taxing hospitals and certain health insurers to help pay for the state Medicaid expansion program. Through Medicaid expansion under the ACA, Oregon has achieved one of the highest uninsured rates in the country, with close to 94% of the state insured. At stake in this referendum was the health coverage of 350,000 low-income Oregonians, including women who rely on Medicaid for critical reproductive health services, said supporters of the measure.

NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, the political action arm of our Portland-based RWV regional coordinator Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health, worked hard alongside nurses and doctors, firefighters and teachers, AARP, local hospitals and families across the state, to ensure that Measure 101 passed. NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon made phone calls and led a door knocking campaign to urge people across the state to support the measure.

Following Tuesday’s vote, Hannah Rosenau, Program Director at NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon (second from right in photo), said “We are proud to be a part of the successful YES on Measure 101 coalition, standing with over 175 organizations representing hundreds of thousands of Oregonians to protect and support health care. We believe that everyone deserves access to affordable health care and Medicaid is essential for children, people with disabilities and working families in Oregon.”

 

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