Archive for the ‘Political Diagnosis’ Category

May 30, 2009

Political Diagnosis: Conservative Groups Fight Health Care Reform; Bills May Split Over Public Option; High Cost of Care in Texas and More …

Looking for Supreme Court news? See our separate post on discussions surrounding Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination and an interview with Georgetown University Law Professor Emma Coleman Jordan.

Conservative Groups Protest Health Care Reform; Progressives Fire Back: A 30-minute documentary-style advertisement titled “End of Patient’s Rights — The Human Consequences of Government-Run Health Care” is scheduled to run on Washington’s NBC affiliate on Sunday morning, following “Meet the Press.”

The SEIU and other progressive groups are urging NBC not to air the infomercial because of false and misleading claims by Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, the group behind the video., run by the nonpartisan Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania, called CPR’s previous advertisement “misleading.”

Some background: CPR is led by ex-hospital CEO Rick Scott, who is, well, kind of sleazy. Scott was head of Columbia/HCA healthcare company, the largest for-profit U.S. healthcare company, until the board of directors ousted him in 1997 amid a  government fraud investigation. Columbia/HCA Healthcare ended up pleading guilty and paid a record $1.7 billion in fines. Scott was never charged; today his investment firm owns a chain of walk-in urgent-care clinics in Florida, among other ventures.

“Having Scott lead the charge against healthcare reform is like tapping Bernie Madoff to campaign against tighter securities regulation,” Christopher Hayes wrote in The Nation earlier this month.

In other words, the current health care system works just fine for him.

Plus: Political Hotsheet reports that the nonprofit Americans for Prosperity Foundation launched a new campaign called Patients United Now “to educate citizens about the threat of government controlled health care.”  Media Matters fact-checks those claims. The group previously enlisted Sam “Joe The Plumber” Wurzelbacher in its campaign against the Employee Free Choice Act, a pro-union bill.

Kennedy to Unveil Health Care Bill on Monday: “Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) is circulating the outlines of sweeping health-care legislation that would require every American to have insurance and would mandate that employers contribute to workers’ coverage,” writes Ceci Connolly at the Washington Post.

The plan in the summary document, provided by two Democrats who do not work for Kennedy, closely resembles extensive changes enacted in the senator’s home state three years ago.

In many respects it adopts the most liberal approaches to health reform being discussed in Washington. Kennedy, for example, embraces a proposal to create a government-sponsored insurance program to compete directly with existing private insurance plans, according to one senior adviser who was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Split Between Democrats: The New York Times looks at the split between Kennedy, who is championing a public health plan, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, who will probably play down the public option in favor of bipartisan support.

One possible compromise is what has become known as the trigger option — the public plan kicks in only if private insurance companies fail to make affordable coverage available to all Americans within a certain timeframe. It’s kind of difficult, however, not to argue that the timeframe has already expired. Robert Pear writes:

Passage of comprehensive health legislation this year is a top priority for Mr. Baucus and Mr. Kennedy, the chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. So they may be able to resolve their differences, aides said.

The split reflects not only political differences between the two men but also differences between their committees, racing to write the most ambitious health care legislation in the nation’s history.

Over all, Democrats on the Finance Committee tend to be more moderate than those on the health committee, which includes more Democrats who identify themselves as liberals or progressives. The two Senate panels are drafting separate bills that are to be merged before going to the Senate floor.

Meanwhile, on the House side, Rep. Charlie Rangel, chair of the Ways and Means Committee, said earlier this week, “It’s my political judgment a plan without the public option would not be able to pass the House.”

The Root of the Problem: Atul Gawande’s New Yorker story on the high cost of health care, told through the lens of a small Texas town, is drawing high praise.

American Prospect-turned-Washington-Post-blogger Ezra Klein calls it “the best article you’ll see this year on American health care — why it’s so expensive, why it’s so poor, what can be done.” Commenters seem to agree.

(Side note: Congrats to Klein on the move, but I’m sorry that his blog tagline went from “Momma said wonk you out” to “Economic and Domestic Policy, and Lots of It.” Nothing better at WaPo?)

Wonk on This: Health Wonk Review is a bi-weekly compendium of health policy blogs. This week’s round-up is posted at Boston Health News, a new-ish blog by freelance health and science writer Tinker Ready (I’m already in love with her name). Want to participate? Look here.

The FDA as Public Health Agency: Scott Hensley at Covering Health points to a New England Journal of Medicine article by new FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Deputy Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein. Hensley notes that this public health manifesto is supported by a single footnote — “a reference to a Supreme Court decision in 1969 that affirmed the FDA’s broad authority and its constant  ‘overriding purpose’: the protection of public health.”

Insurance That Comes With a Cost: “Is your medical insurance bad for your health? If you have a high-deductible plan, the answer may be yes,” begins this New York Times Patient Money column on the pitfalls of high deductibles. Walecia Konrad continues:

The investment firm Fidelity recently surveyed employees at various companies who had opted for a high-deductible health plan linked to a health savings account. About half of those workers said they or a family member had chosen not to seek medical care for minor ailments as many as four times in the last year to avoid paying the out-of-pocket expenses.

As any doctor will tell you, small health problems left untreated can become big problems, warns Kathleen Stoll, director of health policy at the health care advocacy group Families USA. “This is just one of the many high-deductible pitfalls consumers need to watch out for,” Ms. Stoll said.

Read on for more.

May 23, 2009

Political Diagnosis: Supreme Court Pick Due Soon; Hamburg Confirmed as FDA Commissioner; Senators Demand Public Insurance Option; Single-Payer Advocates Keep up Fight …

Supreme Court Nominee Announcement Next Week: Obama’s pick to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice David Souter could come next week. Obama is known to have met with Judge Diane Wood, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton 14 years ago to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Last weekend, Nina Totenberg named a few names you probably haven’t heard of that may be on the short list. Obama has been reaching out to Republicans, but conservative activists are still gearing up for a fight.

FDA Nominee Confirmed: The Senate this week confirmed Margaret Hamburg as the 21st commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. She is the second woman to hold the post in 100 years of agency history, reports the AP.

Paul Farmer to Lead Foreign Assistance Program?: “Dr. Paul Farmer, a founder of Partners in Health, recipient of the MacArthur ‘genius’ award and a long-time provider of and advocate for basic health care for the poor is under consideration by the Obama Administration to head a newly overhauled foreign assistance program, according to sources close to Farmer. He will be meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week to discuss the post,” reports Jodi Jacobson at RH Reality Check.

Stay tuned to this one — the news has made  health and human rights activists ecstatic, and if the appointment goes through it would signal a genuine re-thinking of international assistance.

Product Liability Suits Shift Toward States: Obama on Wednesday reversed Bush administration regulations that  protected companies from product-liability lawsuits in state courts.

“The memo didn’t name specific industries but it could affect a wide range of consumer products subject to both federal and state regulation,” reports the Wall Street Journal. Prescription drugs would be included, but not lawsuits against medical-device makers, which are still pre-empted under a longstanding federal law on devices. The WSJ notes, though, that “Democrats in Congress, supported by the tort bar, are pushing legislation that would allow such suits.”

Who Will and Will Not be Covered: Senate Finance Committee Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said this week that Congress’ health care reform would not cover undocumented immigrants.

“[W]e’re not going to cover undocumented workers. That’s too politically explosive,” said Baucus.  “I don’t have a good answer yet to undocumented workers, illegal aliens,” adding, “There will still be charity care.”

Baucus was speaking at a reporters-only event sponsored by Kaiser Family Foundation, Families USA and the National Federation of Independent Business. Undocumented immigrants account for 15 to 22 percent of the estimated 47 million U.S. residents without health coverage, according to an analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Put Public Option In: More than two dozen senators introduced a resolution on Thursday demanding that any health reform bill to come out of the Senate Finance Committee include a public insurance option to compete with private insurance companies, reports Politico.

At the Thursday meeting with reporters, Baucus said he expected the bill to include a public option, but he hedged on how it might be done.

“Now, by saying that, I don’t want to frighten people, particularly on the industry side. … All I’m saying is, there are ways to skin a cat,” Baucus said. “There are ways to find a solution.”

Looks like Blue Cross Blue Shield is already frightened. The health insurance giant is striking back with deceptive videos about the public plan. The Washington Post has the video storyboards.

Where the Money Comes From: Baucus and Finance Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R‐Iowa)  released policy options for financing health care reform. The Hill’s Jeffrey Young explains the proposals. Public comment is welcomed through May 26. Yes, that’s this Tuesday.

Put Single Payer on the Table: Meanwhile, the movement to add single-payer national insurance to the discussion continues. Dr. David Himmelstein and Dr. Sidney Wolfe this week discussed the political feasibility with Bill Moyers. Watch the episode or read the transcript.

In an editorial, the Albany Times Union questions why single-payer insurance hasn’t been given a fair shake:

Earlier this month, eight courageous doctors, lawyers and other activists interrupted a Senate Finance Committee meeting on health care reform to ask why there wasn’t one advocate of a single-payer health care system at the table. Chairman Max Baucus, a Montana Democrat, had them arrested. Shame on Senator Baucus, and shame on Congress if it continues to stifle debate on one of the biggest issues facing this country.

To claim, as they have, that “everything is on the table” except a nationalized health insurance system, similar to what many other modern, industrial Western nations have, is much like saying the Thanksgiving meal is complete, except for the turkey.We are not saying single-payer is necessarily the answer. We are saying that a full discussion of the future of health care in America can’t take place if all credible potential solutions aren’t examined.

Health Care Reform Begins at Birth: Childbirth Connection this week outlined eight steps for reforming maternity care (pdf) as part of larger health care reform.

“It’s time to replace provider and institutional centered care with patient-centered, evidence-based care that meets the individual needs, values, and preferences of women, babies and families,” said Childbirth Connection Executive Direction Maureen Corry.

Bookmark This: Kaiser Family Foundation has launched a new “gateway” site on health reform:

Among the highlights: a side-by-side comparison of major health care reform proposals; health policy headlines; and resources and fact sheets explaining national and state initiatives. It’s a nifty all-in-one shop.

Plus: Kaiser President Drew Altman explains “where the experts and the public are at odds on basic beliefs about underlying problems, delivery reform, and health care costs.” A handy chart shows the differences.

And the Hastings Center, a nonpartisan bioethics research institution, has launched a new blog — The Health Care Cost Monitor — that aims to “fill a void: the cost crisis has not been addressed in the public and legislative arenas with the care, depth, and nuance it requires.”

May 19, 2009

Oprah is Not Your Doctor and Much, Much More

The Double Dose/Political Diagnosis catch-up edition …

Taking Medical Advice From Oprah: In a word, don’t.

Blogging the Common Ground: CNN’s “blogger bunch” discussion on abortion, following President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame, includes our fave Ann Friedman of Feministing and The American Prospect.

Supreme Court Rules 7-2 Against Women Workers: Women whose pension payments are reduced because they took pregnancy-related leave in the 1960s and 1970s, when pregnancy discrimination wasn’t illegal, aren’t entitled to full pension benefits now, the Supreme Court ruled Monday. The women lost an appeal aimed at forcing AT&T to grant compensatory service credits to boost their pensions.

Motherhood, a Discussion: A new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released this month found that the percentage of children born to unmarried women rose to nearly 40 percent of births in 2007, up from 34 percent in 2002. The New York Times invited five experts to weigh in: Silvia Henriquez, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; Stephanie Coontz, Council on Contemporary Families; Corinne Maier, author; Mark Regnerus, sociology professor; and Libertad González Luna, economics professor.

FEMA’s Healthier Housing?: From NPR: The Federal Emergency Management Agency has unveiled new models of temporary housing designed to provide shelter for people displaced by natural disasters. A serious plus: They have been built with as little formaldehyde as possible, unlike the trailers FEMA provided to Hurricane Katrina victims.

New CDC Director: President Obama on Friday appointed New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Dr. Frieden, a 48-year-old infectious disease specialist, has cut a high and sometimes contentious profile in his seven years as New York’s top health official under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg,” reports The New York Times. “He led the crusade to ban smoking in restaurants and bars, pushed to make H.I.V. testing a routine part of medical exams, and defended a program that passes out more than 35 million condoms a year.”

Medicaid as a Platform for Heath Reform: Kaiser Family Foundation released a package of research papers last week that examine opportunities for expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income and high-need people in ways that would enable the program to serve as a platform for larger national health reform efforts. The papers were released at a public briefing on Medicaid as a Platform for Broader Health Reform. A webcast of the briefing is available.

Plus: Also from Kaiser — an expert panel examined the global health aspects of Obama’sFiscal Year 2010 budget, including allocations for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI). The panel, part of KFF’s new “U.S. Global Health Policy: In Focus” live webcast series, also discussed what the next steps are for the budget with Congress. The webcast and podcast is available.

Max Baucus is for Health Care Reform: But Democrats aren’t entirely sure which side the Montana senator and Finance Committee chairman is on, reports Politico. “Baucus puts a premium on bipartisanship, and if he insists on winning more than a handful of Republican votes, the final product could look vastly different than a bill passed through the Senate with only a simple majority.”

Meanwhile, centrist Democrats have raised concerns with House leaders over a health reform bill that includes a public insurance plan that competes with the private insurance market … Hospitals and insurance companies want to reduce the growth of health care spending, but not like that … James Ridgeway wrote earlier in the week at Mother Jones that “the underlying purpose of this PR stunt is to slow or block any meaningful health care reforms, which could actually improve care while reducing the price tag by a lot more than 1.5 percent.” … The Washington Post deconstructs the White House email on health care reform … And Covering Health, the blog of the Association of Healthcare Journalists, asks: Have reporters written off single-payer system?

Single Payer Would Have Been Nice, But …: If the country were building a health care system from scratch, a single-payer system would be the way to go, Obama said in response to a question about single-payer health care at a town-hall style meeting in New Mexico last week. But at this point, with a tradition of employer-based health care already in place, the goal is simply to improve the current system. Here’s the discussion:

May 4, 2009

Political Diagnosis: Confirmation, Nomination, Resignation and Party Switching

All in one week, Kathleen Sebelius was approved as HHS secretary, we learned Supreme Court Justice David Souter is retiring, Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties and President Obama hit his 100-day mark, causing some furor over his comments on the Freedom of Choice Act. Moving right along …

Who Will Fill Souter’s Chair?: The New York Times looks at the type of justice Obama might nominate. The story features photos and short bios of the people whose names we’ve been hearing mentioned a lot lately — mostly women in high-level government, academic or legal positions. The Washington Post has a list of contenders.

NPR’s Nina Totenberg said Sunday on “Weekend Edition” that some of the names “are kind of a shout-out with no real chance that they’re going to be picked.” She wasn’t pressed on which ones. She also said this is Obama’s best shot to nominate someone who is very liberal.

Obama Picks Goosby For Global AIDS Position: Obama last week announced he would nominate Dr. Eric Goosby as head of the Office of Global AIDS Coordinator and Ambassador at Large. Goosby, CEO and chief medical officer of the Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation, was director of the Office of HIV/AIDS Policy in the Clinton administration. He is also a medical professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Jodi Jacobson has more.

Earlier this year, we noted the brouhaha surrounding Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s decision to request the resignation of Mark Dybul, who held the position as Global AIDS Coordinator during the Bush administration. Goosby was first mentioned as a successor back then.

Budget Blueprint Gets Stamp of Approval: Congress on Wednesday approved a $3.4 trillion spending plan, “setting the stage for President Obama to pursue the first major overhaul of the nation’s health-care system in a generation along with other far-reaching domestic initiatives,” reports the Washington Post. Democrats also reached agreement on using budget reconciliation to advance health care reform, which ensures Republicans won’t be able to filibuster the legislation.

Tough Times Ahead: “How hard is it to remake the nation’s health care system? It’s so hard that even if policymakers do everything right, most observers still don’t give them more than a 50-50 chance of getting a bill passed,” reports NPR.

Then there’s a shortage of doctors, which only complicates matters.

Arlen Specter on Health Care: Ezra Klein on what Specter The Democrat means for health care reform.

Take Action
DFA/MoveOn: Take part in an emergency online briefing Monday, May 4 at 9 p.m. ET with Dr. Howard Dean.  Click to follow the briefing, “What We All Need to Know to Win on Health Care This Year,” Monday night.

National Women’s Law Center: One woman on the highest court in the land is not enough. Urge President Obama to nominate a woman committed to upholding and enforcing women’s legal rights and protections.

April 24, 2009

Political Diagnosis: Over-the-Counter Birth Control for 17-Year-Olds; Upcoming Vote on Sebelius for HHS; Budget Debate Picks Up Speed; Groups Call for Insurance Expansion …

Plan B OK’d for 17-Year-Olds: The FDA announced this week it will permit over-the-counter sales of the morning-after pill Plan B to women as young as 17. In a statement released on its website, the FDA said it would not appeal last month’s federal court ruling directing the government agency to permit the sale without a prescription. Read more at the Washington Post.

A New York Times editorial called the decision a “further break from the Bush administration’s ideologically driven policies on birth control.” While this is certainly good news, the FDA has not yet addressed the additional order that it consider removing any age restrictions.

Vote on HHS Nominee Sebelius Expected Early Next Week: The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday voted 15-8 to approve Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius as HHS secretary. The vote was mostly along party lines, except for Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who joined Democrats voting in favor.

We thought we might see a full vote this week, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delayed the vote, saying lawmakers need more time to consider the nomination (read: need more time to make abortion a wedge issue). Now it’s set for Tuesday, April 28, with debate starting at 10 a.m.

Plus: The American Prospect looks at how President Obama’s cabinet picks may affect politics and public policy in six states. From the introduction:

In his effort to choose politicians who have a history of working in concert with Republicans, many of his nominees are from conservative-leaning states where they played a large role in negotiating more progressive policies on everything from taxes to reproductive health to education. In their absence, not just more conservative politicians but more conservative legislation is likely to result. Here, we look at just a few of the states Obama’s Cabinet members have left behind — and consider just how complicated the fallout could be.

Budget Resolution Speeds Up: Can Congress pass President Obama’s fiscal year 2010 budget resolution by April 29 — Obama’s 100th day in office? Democrats are hoping so. A tentative deal apparently was reached today to use a fast-track budget process to advance health care reform.

“The first formal House-Senate negotiations aren’t expected until Monday,” reports Politico. “But the administration appears in love with the symbolism of completing action in the first 100 days and the hope is a package can be filed Monday, setting the stage for the House to vote Tuesday and the Senate on Wednesday.”

Calling the budget debate thus far “surprisingly lackluster,” the story notes that the budget resolution is basically just an internal congressional planning process that doesn’t even go to the president for his signature. But completing the action by Wednesday would “open the door to health care reform” and “it would be a symbolic victory the White House clearly covets.”

Plus: Read more on what the budget means for women and families at the National Women’s Law Center.

Reforming Healthcare Delivery: The Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday held a roundtable discussion on reforming America’s healthcare delivery system. All the witness statements are available on the committee’s website, including comments by Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families.

“Delivery system reform must put patients first,” said Ness. “Achieving a patient-centered delivery system will require significant change in what we provide and how we provide it. Toward that end, we must pursue two key strategies: a payment system that rewards and encourages better coordinated, integrated and accountable care, and a health care infrastructure that supports the delivery of this care.”

Note to Obama — We’re on It: Senate Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Chairman Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) sent a letter on Monday to President Obama, reiterating their commitment to moving health reform legislation in the Senate this year. They also laid out their schedule for committee action, noting that both committees will mark-up legislation in early June.

Groups Call for Insurance Expansion: The National Council of La Raza, the Asian American Justice Center, the National Association for the Advancement for Colored People, the National Congress of American Indians and the Children’s Defense Fund have formed a partnership to lobby for health insurance coverage of all children and pregnant women. Kaiser Health Disparities Report, drawing on information from the subscription-only CQ HealthBeat, has more.

Take Action
Via National Women’s Law Center
: The Paycheck Fairness Act, passed in the House and now pending in the Senate, aims to strengthen current laws against wage discrimination and require the federal government to be more proactive in preventing and battling wage discrimination. Among other things, the Paycheck Fairness Act would also close a significant loophole in the Equal Pay Act to allow for full compensation for sex-based wage discrimination. Are your senators on board? The NWLC is calling on all senators who have not yet signed on to co-sponsor the bill to do so by Equal Pay Day — April 28. Send a message to your senators.

And don’t forget to tell your senators to confirm Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for secretary of Health and Human Services.

Via True Majority: The chemical industry is angry at First Lady Michelle Obama for not spraying toxic chemicals on her family’s garden. CREDO has been working hard to show support for the First Lady and tell the chemical companies to back off. Show your support by signing their petition.

April 18, 2009

Political Diagnosis: Health Czar Discusses Public Insurance Option; What Meaningful Health Care Reform Looks Like for Women; EPA Gets Real on Greenhouse Gases …


Nancy Ann Min DeParle

White House Health Czar Discusses Health Reform: Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, said on Wednesday that that she believes a health care overhaul bill will include a public insurance option.

“It’s been interesting to talk to people who say, ‘Oh, I don’t like a public plan.’ When you actually start talking to them about what it might look like, you realize you’re talking about two different things,” said DeParle. Read her definition of a public plan here.

DeParle appeared at a reporters-only Health Care Reform Newsmaker briefing sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, Families USA and the National Federation of Independent Business. View the webcast is available online.

Also from Kaiser: In his latest column, Kaiser Foundation’s President and CEO Drew Altman offers a brief history of health reform efforts since World War Two. There’s a magic number involved, too: “19.7. That’s the average number of years between major attempts at health reform since Harry Truman made health reform a top priority and his plan was branded a socialist plot and soundly defeated in 1950.”

Comparative Effectiveness Research Funding: The Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research on Tuesday held the first of at least three listening sessions on how the $1.1 billion from the stimulus package for comparative effectiveness research should be spent. The public as well as interest groups are invited to weigh in. Read more from Kansas Health Institute.

Better Care, Lower Costs: Peter Orszag, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, predicts that in one year the country will be on its way to a more efficient health care system. Orszag tells NPR:

When you go to see your doctor, that doctor will have much more information about what specifically is likely to work for your diagnosis, and will have better incentives to be providing high-quality care to you, rather than just more care. And, in addition to that, the number of uninsured people in the United States will be dramatically lower than it is today. [...]

Estimates suggest that as much as $700 billion a year in health care costs do not improve health outcomes. It occurs because we pay for more care rather than better care … We need to be moving towards a system in which doctors and hospitals have incentives to provide the care that makes you better, rather than the care that just results in more tests and more days in [the] hospital.

Plus: Previously at NPR — Orszag is President Obama’s “super nerd” who specializes in the economics of health care.

Meaningful Reform: Writing at Huffington Post, National Women’s Law Center Co-president Marcia Greenberger outlines what’s at stake for women:

Health care reform that results in accessible care for women means making sure that everyone has access to affordable coverage and health care, and ending unfair insurance practices — such as rejecting applicants based on health history, pre-existing condition exclusions, or setting insurance rates based on gender, health status, or age. It also means providing access to affordable health coverage regardless of employment or family status.

To meet the needs of women, health care reform must result in coverage that is affordable — meaning that it must include income based subsidies for health care premiums and all out-of-pocket expenses; elimination of annual or lifetime caps on services and prescriptions; and a strengthened and expanded Medicaid program.

Finally, reform must provide comprehensive health and prescription drug benefits with coverage for a full range of health services, including wellness, prevention, and reproductive health services.

Better Late Than Never: “In a landmark move that countered eight years of inaction by the Bush administration, the Environmental Protection Agency determined yesterday that greenhouse gases threaten public health and welfare because they contribute to climate change,” reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

So what does that mean? The pieces are now in place for the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide and other emissions caused by automobiles, ships, airplanes, power plants, oil refineries, steel mills and more. The EPA must hold a public comment period before finalizing any regulations. Visit the EPA website on greenhouse gas emissions.

How to Fuel an Anti-Abortion Movement: “Obama’s first 84 days in office have been like an extended recruiting drive for the anti-abortion movement, reinvigorating a constituency he sought to neutralize during the campaign,” reports Politico. “Activists report a noticeable spike in activity as Obama moves to defend and expand a woman’s right to choose an abortion – causing anti-abortion voters to mobilize in ways never needed during the Bush administration.”

Take Action
Progressive Democrats of America: The California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee is partnering with PDA to c0-sponsor a series of “Healthcare NOT Warfare” events in California next week, leading up to the state’s annual Democratic Party convention starting April 25. The effort will highlight and build grassroots support for HR 676 by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), which would set up a single-payer health care system in the U.S. Contact your representative about supporting HR 676.

April 11, 2009

Political Diagnosis: Budget Showdown on Health Care Looming; Doors to Office on Health Reform Now Officially Open; Gearing Up for Public Option Fight; Advisory Council and “Junk Religion” …

Sure, health care reform is our top priority, but don’t you also want to know about the first pup? Of course you do. Read all about Bo in the Washington Post.

The First Showdown on Health Care Reform: The New York Times, in an editorial, states that the Democrats might be right to use the budget reconciliation process (more) to pass health care reform. The process would enable the Senate to pass a health care bill with just 51 votes rather than the 60 normally required.

“There are reasons to be wary about resorting to the expedited process [...] But it is a weapon that the Democrats would be foolish to give up without evidence that Republicans will truly cooperate in fashioning meaningful reform. Not one Republican in the House or the Senate voted for the budget resolutions, and only three supported the stimulus bill.”

Office of Health Reform Officially Open: President Obama made official the new White House Office of Health Reform, overseen by Nancy-Ann DeParle.

“As outlined in the order, there’s plenty of work for the new — and rather small — team to do,” writes Ceci Connolly at the Washington Post (scroll down for the executive order). “Among the responsibilities listed in the document: coordinating with all relevant executive branch agencies, reaching out to state and local officials, working with Congress to enact health reform legislation and overseeing implementation of any eventual policy changes.”

Political Groups Gear up For Public Option Fight: The most controversial health care reform issue is whether a public option — a Medicare-style health insurance plan that Americans can buy into instead of choosing private insurance — will be available.

“Lawmakers and their staffs are currently hammering out the details of reform legislation that is expected to go to the floor in June. But interest groups on the right and left have already begun a fierce ideological battle, with each side trying to shape the public’s perception of a public insurance plan,” writes Alexandra Marks in the Christian Science Monitor.

Meanwhile, a new study by the Lewin Group, “The Cost and Coverage Impacts of a Public Plan: Alternative Design Options,” found that if the government plan were open to all employers and individuals, and if it paid doctors and hospitals the same as Medicare, it would attract 131 million members, and enrollment in private insurance plans would plummet. But that’s not the only scenario. Read a good summary by the AP.

“Junk Religion”: The White House this week named the final members of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Frances Kissling is not impressed with the make-up.

“Nineteen members of the Council represent religious organizations,” writes Kissing. “Not one of the organizations they represent has played a strong role in reforming religion; in fact they have defended themselves against internal reform. There is not a single academic theologian in the batch. Thinkers are sorely absent. The majority of the men representing religious organizations who have been named to the Council either personally or institutionally represent the most conservative religious thought on women’s nature, identity and reproductive choice.”

Here’s the original White House press release announcing the council’s responsibilities.

Plan to Approve Care for Veterans Proposed: “President Obama announced plans on Thursday to computerize the medical records of veterans into a unified system, a move that is expected to ease the now-cumbersome process that results in confusion, lost records and bureaucratic delays,” reports The New York Times. “The Veterans Affairs system has a backlog of 800,000 disability claims, which means that veterans typically wait six months for decisions on their cases.”

Waiting for an Insurance Bailout: We’ve previously mentioned that the stimulus package includes subsidies for people who were recently laid off so they can keep their health care coverage. Looks like those subsidies aren’t coming through fast enough.

“Some of us have continued ponying up large premiums on the promise that we will get refunds down the road,” writes Rick Schmitt, who was laid off last fall. “We’re now hearing that, in some cases, the discounts may not fully kick in until this summer, and even then they may not be steep enough to make insurance affordable for many of the jobless.”

Considering the way the government poured billions into the banks and insurers such as AIG that got us into this mess, the handling of the health-care subsidies smacks of a double standard for us ordinary Joes.

The biggest beneficiaries so far seem to be health-care lawyers and consultants who are busy selling advice on how the whole thing is supposed to work. It took a month for the government to come up with guidance on implementing the subsidies. Employers and the firms they hire to manage benefits now face the time-consuming job of identifying people who might be eligible.

With health-care reform high on the agenda of the Obama administration, the situation offers a glimpse of the difficulties in pushing through any changes in the nation’s health-care system. Given the thousands of different plans, experts say delays are inevitable under even the best of circumstances.

Take Action
* National Women’s Law Center
: Members of Congress are in their home districts for recess — and this is an important opportunity to make sure they hear the health care reform message at home. Our partners at Health Care for America Now are holding events with lawmakers across the country to make sure they know that we need real health care reform. Search here for an event near you. Learn more about health care reform that meets the needs of women and their families.

* The Big Push for Midwives, which advocates for certified professional midwives, is also promoting meetings with members of Congress next week. If you want to make sure health reform includes a maternity care system that is safer and less-costly, it’s time to get pushy. Learn more.

March 29, 2009

Political Diagnosis: Health Care Reform Tips – What to Read, Who to Watch; Groups Find Common Ground; A Lesson From Massachusetts; Time to Split the FDA? …

Health Care Primers: The L.A. Times earlier this month published a Q&A on issues to watch as the health care debate unfolds. And over at The New York Times, Uwe E. Reinhardt, an economics professor at Princeton, breaks down the economic sector’s definition of “health care reform.”

Groups Find Some Common Ground on Health Care: “Groups often at odds over health care reform — consumers, insurers, doctors, employers — reached a broad agreement Friday that could serve as a starting point for lawmakers trying to overhaul the system,” reports the AP.

The report issued by the Health Reform Dialogue (which recently lost a couple of members when two large unions pulled out) calls for covering the uninsured through a mix of expanded government programs and subsidies to purchase private health coverage. Read the five-page proposal here (pdf).

Who Are the Big Health Care Players?: Politico identifies five groups to watch in the coming months for insight into which reform plans have traction.

Why We Can’t All Get Along: The New York Times looks at opposition by the insurance industry to one of the proposals President Obama has floated: offering a federal, Medicare-like insurance plan to anyone, at any age, alongside private health plans provided by commercial insurers.

“[T]he insurance industry and others wary of too much government intervention vehemently oppose the idea,” writes Reed Abelson. “They say the heavy hand of the government will eventually push out the private insurers, leaving the government option as the only option. That is why the industry seems unwilling to give ground on the issue, even while making other concessions to national health reform — like the industry’s announcement on Tuesday that it might be willing to stop charging sick people higher rates than healthy customers.”

Also see the useful sidebar linking to academic opinions on public health insurance, and this graphic on health care proposals along the policy spectrum.

So About That Announcement …: David Lazarus at the L.A. Times writes that insurance companies pulled a fast one:

The insurers are saying that they’ll treat all people fairly in return for a government requirement that everyone buy their product.

Yet if you read the fine print in their plan, it turns out that they’re reserving the right to charge different prices for different levels of coverage — a practice that would effectively keep us where we are, with sick (or potentially sick) people paying more for insurance.

The loophole was included — “hidden” is a more apt word — in a letter sent to prominent senators from a pair of industry leaders: Karen Ignagni, president of America’s Health Plans, an industry group; and Scott P. Serota, president of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Assn.

Keep reading …

A Lesson From Massachusetts: “[T]here is only one real-life model in this country for the kind of sweeping change being considered in Washington, and that is in Massachusetts, where a landmark law signed in April 2006 has achieved near-universal coverage,” writes Kevin Sack in The New York Times.

Disputes Over Cost: The Hill reports on reaction from lawmakers to the cost of reform and the push for a deficit-neutral health care plan.

And, In Other News …

Amid Calls to Modernize Food Safety, a Plan to Split the FDA: “Drug industry advocates are quietly allying with some of their longtime critics pushing to split the Food and Drug Administration into two agencies, one for food safety and one for medical products,” reports the AP.

A former FDA official said the nomination of Margaret Hamburg, a former New York City Health Commissioner, for FDA commissioner, and Joshua Sharfstein, a pediatrician, as deputy commissioner, suggests Obama favors splitting the agency.

On the Way to Washington …: Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed into law legislation requiring abortion clinics to offer women the option of viewing their sonograms or listening to a fetal heart monitor before the procedure. The law also “requires the state to make and distribute pamphlets and a video about abortion and fetal development. And it requires clinics to post signs telling patients that coerced abortions are illegal,” writes David Klepper at the Kansas City Star.

“We were hoping for a veto,” said Holly Weatherford, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood. “But we will continue to provide our services and comply with this new law.”

In signing the bill, Sebelius — a Democrat and an abortion rights supporter — steered clear of one final showdown with anti-abortion lawmakers as she exits Kansas politics.

Next week she begins U.S. Senate confirmation hearings on her nomination to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Anti-abortion groups have seized on her support for abortion rights and her political ties to abortion providers.

Take Action
Howard Dean and Democracy for America last week launched a campaign to ensure that Obama’s health care plan includes a universally available public healthcare option like Medicare. Add your name to this campaign at

March 23, 2009

Political Diagnosis: The New Sisterhood in Washington; Lawmakers Get REAL on Sex Education; Panel to Advise on Comparative Effectiveness Research …

The New Sisterhood: Krissah Thompson of the Washington Post writes about the ascent of black women in the new Obama administration: “The ‘Obama women’ — as African American women who’ve taken big jobs in his administration have been nicknamed — mark another step in the long journey of black women from outsiders to gatekeepers in political Washington. They have quietly entered their jobs with little attention paid to the fact that they are the largest contingent of high-ranking black women to work for a president.”

Time, Again, to Get REAL: Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) this week introduced a bill called the Responsible Education about Life (REAL) Act that would authorize funding  for comprehensive and medically accurate sex education. Believe it or not, federal funding is only available now for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. And we know how well that’s been working.

Spending Strategy Advisers Named: The U.S. Health and Human Services Department on Thursday named a panel of 15 government experts to advise the government on how to spend the $1.1 billion on determining which medical treatments work best. The money was set aside in the stimulus bill.  Rachel has more on comparative effectiveness research, a new focus of the Obama administration.

Plus: HHS announced Dr. David Blumenthal, a former Harvard Medical School professor and political adviser on health care issues, as the  national coordinator for health information technology. In this new role, Blumenthal “will lead the implementation of a nationwide interoperable, privacy-protected health information technology infrastructure as called for in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” according to the release.

A Reason to Fast Track Coverage: “Health care is one of the few relatively healthy parts of our unhealthy economy right now,” writes Drew Altman, Kaiser Family Foundation president and CEO.

“Since January 2008, the economy has lost 4.3 million non-farm jobs. Virtually all major industries have shed jobs. What went up? Well, mining and logging companies added modestly to their payrolls. Government and education employment is up somewhat, along with social assistance (not too surprising given our economic circumstances). But where did employment go up the most since January of last year? You guessed it: Health care, which added 383,200 jobs.” Read on.

Small Business Takes on Reform: The National Small Business Association today launched a new website, Health Reform Today, advocating for a federally defined benefits package, subsidies for low-income individuals and tax incentives.

White House Forum in Iowa: The third Regional White House Forum on Health Reform takes place today in Des Moines, Iowa. Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office on Health Reform, will represent the administration. The Des Moines Register website will carry the event live at 10 a.m.

March 14, 2009

Political Diagnosis: Obama Draws Attention to Women’s Inequality, Domestic and Global; New FDA Commissioner Nominated; Omnibus Bill Funds Reproductive Health Initiatives; The Return to a Scientific, Reality-Based Presidency

Obama’s Feminist Mystique: What a week for women in the new adminstration. President Obama named Melanie Verveer, chair and CEO of the Vital Voices Global Partnership for emerging women leaders, to a newly created State Department position: special ambassador for global women’s issues. Veveer was once Hillary Clinton’s White House chief of staff.

Then on Wednesday Obama signed an executive order creating a White House Council on Women and Girls. (Read about the event through the eyes of basketball star Lisa Leslie.) Lynn Sweet has photos and a full list of the attendees.

The council will be led by longtime Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, who talked with NPR’s Linda Wertheimer about what the group will focus on. Director of Public Liaison Tina Tchen will oversee day-to-day operations.

Its mission, according to the White House memo, is to “provide a coordinated federal response to the challenges confronted by women and girls to ensure that all Cabinet and Cabinet-level agencies consider how their policies and programs impact women and families.”

In his remarks, Obama emphasized that women are not the only ones hurt by gender inequality:

“These issues are not just women’s issues. When women make less than men for the same work, it hurts families who find themselves with less income, and have to work harder just to get by. When a job doesn’t offer family leave, that also hurts men who want to help care for a new baby or an ailing parent. When there’s no affordable child care, that hurts children who wind up in second-rate care, or spending afternoons alone in front of the television set. And when any of our citizens cannot fulfill their potential because of factors that have nothing to do with their talent, their character, their work ethic, that says something about the state of our democracy.”

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof summed up the powerful message that the White House is sending.

“For decades, the ‘serious’ foreign policy issues were the likes of non-proliferation or trade rules, but a new agenda is emerging and the treatment of women around the world is high on it,” writes Kristof.

“But this isn’t just a justice issue. It’s also a matter of economic development. One of the things we’ve learned over the last 15 years is that you can’t fight poverty effectively unless you educate, emancipate and empower women, and bring them into the formal economy. So, with these new positions, onward!”

New FDA Commissioner Named: Filling a key vacancy, Obama today said in his weekly radio address that he would nominate Margaret A. Hamburg, a physician and former New York City health commissioner, to lead the Food and Drug Administration. Joshua Sharfstein, Baltimore’s health commissioner, will serve as Hamburg’s chief deputy.

The address, which focused on food safety, confirmed Hamburg’s nomination, which was made public earlier this week.

“The pair, both outsiders, would take on an agency in crisis,” wrote Rob Stein and Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post. “Shaken by a series of alarming failures, the FDA desperately needs an infusion of strong leadership, money, technology and personnel — and perhaps a major restructuring, say former officials, members of Congress, watchdog groups and various government reports.”

The dismal news continues:

The agency has been lambasted on Capitol Hill for a series of food-borne illnesses, the most recent of which is an ongoing salmonella illness outbreak that has sickened 700 people and killed nine. It has been slammed by its own scientists for approving medical devices without proper vetting. And it has been unable to ensure the safety of imported goods pouring into the United States from around the world, including food, drugs and raw materials.

Other than that, I’m sure things are just swell.

Plus: Over at the Wall Street Journal, Alicia Mundy has a good story about how political lobbying drove the FDA approval process of Menaflex, a medical device designed to treat a common knee injury. The story includes a paper trail of memos.

And here’s an interesting fact about Hamburg’s mother, Beatrix; She was the first African American woman to attend Vassar College and to earn a degree from the Yale University School of Medicine.

Spending Bill Passes; Includes Funding for Reproductive Health: Congress finally passed the 2009 omnibus spending bill this week. Michele Goldberg, writing at RH Reality Check, discusses the $50 million the bill includes for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), which was de-funded under the Bush administration.

“Now that Democrats are running things, we’re seeing a return to reality-based policymaking on women’s health,” she writes, but warns that conservatives will continue to find ways to attack the UNFPA.

Jodi Jacobson has more analysis of the spending bill and its funding for domestic and international reproductive health programs.

Science Trumps Ideology: Last week we previewed Obama’s decision to overturn the Bush administration’s restrictions on stem cell research. But Obama went a step further on Monday, outlining how his administration would continue to  value the expertise of science advisers. From The New York Times:

The document orders Mr. Obama’s top science adviser to help draft guidelines that will apply to every federal agency. Agencies will be expected to pick science advisers based on expertise, not political ideology, the memorandum said, and will offer whistle-blower protections to employees who expose the misuse or suppression of scientific information.

The idea, the president said in remarks before an audience of lawmakers, scientists, patients advocates and patients in the East Room, is to ensure that “we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology”: a line that drew more applause than any other. Irv Weissman, who directs an institute at Stanford University devoted to studying stem cells, called the declaration “of even greater importance” than the stem cell announcement itself.

After noting that “Congressional Democrats and scientists themselves issued report after report asserting that the White House had distorted or suppressed scientific information,” the Times turned to Bush political strategist Karl Rove and counselor Ed Gillespie to defend their boss and his supposedly rigorous application of science — which makes for a very subjective ending.

Take Action
*Email President Obama at or call the White House at 202-456-1111 and thank the president for his commitment to promoting sound science based on fact not ideology and for not letting religion be used as a barrier to access safe and effective drugs. (National Women’s Health Network)

*As Rachel reported, the first step in rescinding the Bush administration’s so-called concscience-provide rule is the 30-day public comment period. Here are some sample comments for your review and inclusion. (National Partnership for Women and Families)

March 6, 2009

Political Diagnosis: Obama to Lift Stem Cell Research Restrictions; Republicans Attack Health Programs; Fox News on the Provider Conscience Rule – Say What?; Health Care Reform Hits the Road …

Stem Cell Funding: “President Obama’s decision to lift restrictions on federal funding of human embryonic stem cell research, scheduled to be announced Monday, is expected to provide a major boost to one of the most promising but controversial fields of biomedical research in generations,” reports the Washington Post in what will be a page-one story on Saturday.

Congress Hits Spending Roadblock: Congress on Friday passed a stop-gap bill to keep the government running for another five days. The legislation was needed because Republicans on Thursday unexpectedly forced a postponement on a vote on the government’s so-called omnibus bill.

Jodi Jacobson covers the Republican attacks on sexual and reproductive health programs contained in the spending bill — such as the Affordable Birth Control Act, a correction to earlier legislation that is not an earmark (learn more), and U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund.

“[F]or the far right, apparently no ideological position is too shallow and no misrepresentation too outrageous to prevent them from wreaking havoc on this country or to mitigate against their purely political shenanigans,” writes Jacobson.

Fortunately, Republican Sen. Roger Wicker’s amendment to limit UNFPA funding failed.

Fox News Misrepresents Provider Conscience Rule: This one is a doozy. From Media Matters:

In separate reports, Fox News’ Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly misrepresented the reported plans of the Obama administration to rescind a December 2008 Bush administration regulation to falsely assert that the Obama administration’s decision could result in doctors’ being prosecuted or discriminated against for refusing to perform abortions. In fact, federal law — which the Obama administration cannot “repeal[]” — prohibits public officials from requiring recipients of public funds to perform abortions or sterilizations in violation of their religious or moral beliefs.

Read more at Media Matters, along with our coverage of how some media outlets last week mis-characterized the Bush administration policy.

Plus: This is essential: Rachel explains how to comment on the rule to rescind the Bush rule. The  30-day public comment period starts on Tuesday.

Health Care Summit: Health care reform was the topic of the week as more than 150 lawmakers, insurers, doctors and advocates converged on Washington. You can watch the forum on C-SPAN’s website and read the White House’s live blog.

“While the participants were extremely diverse, there was real, across-the-board consensus that the course we’re on right now is neither sustainable nor responsible, and that it’s not working for businesses, state governments, the federal government, individuals or families,” Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said in statement.

Over at Womenstake, the blog of the National Women’s Law Center, NWLC president Marcia Greenberger wrote: “What was striking was that a positive tone existed, not only in front of the cameras but in private conversations throughout the day. Wanting to read it tonight, one Republican member of the House asked me for my own copy of the Center’s report on the outrageous practice of many insurance companies to charge women more than men when they buy insurance directly — even with maternity coverage excluded!”

The New York Times notes that a “wide variety” of the speakers “expressed support for an individual obligation.”

Speakers who endorsed such a requirement included Representative John D. Dingell, Democrat of Michigan; Representative Jo Ann Emerson, Republican of Missouri; Kendall J. Powell, the chief executive of General Mills and a member of the Business Roundtable, which represents large companies; Representative Allyson Y. Schwartz, Democrat of Pennsylvania; and Scott P. Serota, the president of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.

Ms. Emerson said it was essential to “get the entire population in an insurance pool and spread the risk.”

Likewise, Mr. Serota said, “an enforceable mandate is the cornerstone to getting everybody covered.” Health insurance will not work if people can buy it when they are sick and drop it when they are healthy, he said.

Richard J. Umbdenstock, the president of the American Hospital Association, said the word “mandate” seemed to alarm some people, so he suggested using a term like “responsibility.”

Insurance should be viewed as “a responsibility on every individual, every institution and every enterprise in our society,” Mr. Umbdenstock said.

Plus: Today’s “Morning Edition” on NPR looked at how Obama plans to pay for expanding health care coverage.

Health Forums Hit the Road: The White House will hold regional forums on health care in key states, but Obama probably won’t attend.

“The White House, in a statement, indicated that people from around the country — experts, health care professionals and providers as well as everyday citizens — would be invited to attend the sessions in these states: California, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Vermont. The forums are to be held later this month and next, although no specific dates were announced,” writes Kate Phillips.

More Health Care Reform Suggestions: Democratic Sen. Max Baucus of Montana said this week he will introduce comprehensive health-care legislation in June, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. Baucus is looking to introduce a bipartisan bill with Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R.-Iowa), and he hopes to get the support of 70 senators.

“We need to come up with a uniquely American solution, which is a combination of public and private,” Baucus said. “I think we’d be spending capital inefficiently to pursue single-payer. I think there should be choice, flexibility, in our reform package. This is not a single-pay country.”

Watch the full video of Baucus’ remarks at Kaiser Family Foundation.

And Another Thing: This isn’t directly health-related, but the fact that Obama suspended a Bush administration rule on endangered species is cool.

Action Items
Help Save Affordable Birth Control
Last week regulations to restore affordable birth control were included in the 2009 Appropriations bill. This week, Sen. DeMint tried to strip affordable birth control from the bill, characterizing the Affordable Birth Control Provision as “an earmark for Planned Parenthood,” even though it is of no-cost to the government. Call your senators and encourage them keep in the Affordable Birth Control Provision. (Planned Parenthood)

February 28, 2009

Political Diagnosis, Part II: Undoing Bush’s Provider Conscience Rule

As expected, President Obama is moving to rescind the “provider conscience rule” issued during the last days of the Bush administration.

The Department of Health and Human Services is expected to start the process next week and will call for a 30-day public comment period. Last time around there were 200,000 commments filed against it.

In a front-page story published today in the Washington Post, Rob Stein writes:

The debate centers on a Bush administration regulation, enacted in December, that cuts off federal funding for thousands of state and local governments, hospitals, health plans, clinics and other entities if they do not accommodate doctors, nurses, pharmacists or other employees who refuse to participate in care they feel violates their personal, moral or religious beliefs.

The rule was sought by conservative groups that argued that workers were increasingly being fired, disciplined or penalized in other ways for trying to exercise their “right of conscience.”

Women’s health advocates, family-planning proponents, abortion rights activists and others condemned the regulation, saying it created a major obstacle to providing many health services, including family planning and infertility treatment, and possibly a wide range of scientific research. After reviewing the regulation, newly appointed officials at the Health and Human Services Department agreed.

The result could be a compromise, administration officials told the Post. If so, it would be interesting to see exactly how that gets worded. We already have a working system in place: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on religion (the courts have defined religion quite broadly over the years to include moral beliefs). Last year, three officials from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — including its legal counsel, who was appointed by President Bush — said the HHS rule was unnecessary.

When the news broke on Friday, MSNBC kept referring to it as the “abortion rule,” though it affects all aspects of family planning and a wide range of healthcare options, including end-of-life care, blood transfusions and mental health counseling.

Describing it just in terms of abortion is a real disservice for viewers who may not understand how this affects both men and women, young and old. Or that opposition comes from not only from abortion-rights groups, but also the American Medical Association, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, and the American Hospital Association, among other groups.

Meanwhile, David Stout at The New York Times wrote that the shorthand used to describe the rule reflects divided attitudes: “Supporters called it the ‘provider conscience regulation,’ while the Planned Parenthood Federation of America disdained it as a ‘midnight regulation.’”

Come on; any rule that’s issued almost two months after final regulations are supposed to be in — and less than one month before a new president takes office — is a midnight regulation.