Birth control was illegal 97 years ago, when Margaret Sanger and her sister, Ethel, opened a clinic in a tiny storefront in Brooklyn — the first Planned Parenthood health center. For 10 cents apiece, women could get information about family planning. From the very first day, women lined up down the block with baby buggies and babies in their arms.
Back then, it wasn’t unusual for women to have eight or 10 children, and women routinely died in childbirth. Margaret’s own mother had died at the age of 48, her body literally worn out from having 11 children and seven miscarriages.
Ten days after Margaret opened her clinic, she was arrested and thrown in jail — where she taught her fellow inmates about birth control. And the Planned Parenthood movement was started.
In 1960, the pill was approved as a contraceptive by the FDA and began to change women’s lives dramatically. But we still had to fight. It wasn’t until 1965 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that married couples had a right to use birth control, in a case heard on behalf of one of Planned Parenthood’s great leaders. Since then, we’ve spent decades trying to make birth control more affordable by getting health insurance coverage that includes birth control, like it does any other preventive care.
Today we are closer than ever to realizing that promise. This morning, the Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidance for implementing the birth control benefit of the Affordable Care Act. The proposed regulations released today make clear that women will have access to birth control at no cost, no matter where they work.
Regulations like this can get confusing. Here’s the bottom line: places of worship are exempt from the birth control benefit, and they always have been. Today’s regulations don’t expand the group of employers that are exempt. Instead, the regulations simplify the definition of who is exempt, and they map out how women at other religiously affiliated employers (like schools and hospitals) will get birth control at no cost.
A Wall Street Journal story published Thursday reports that several companies working with lawmakers on health reform analysis may have been misrepresented in a House committee report.
The House Committee on Energy and Commerce filed a report that investigates how health reform affects employer-provided health coverage. The report is a collection of conclusions based on several internal documents the committee received from a council of individuals that represent some of the largest employers in the country.
The President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, created in January 2011, includes Southwest Airlines, UBS, General Electric, and several others that employ thousands of workers nationwide.
Based on the information the committee received from this council, the report summed up its findings with this statement: “the [health reform] law will increase costs, make future planning for hiring and expansions difficult due to the uncertainty created by the law, and could ultimately lead to employers dropping health insurance coverage for their employees.”
The implication that employers would ultimately drop health coverage stems from estimates that provisions in the Affordable Care Act will drive up health insurance costs and that the employer mandate, otherwise known as the “pay or play” clause, will create a “financial incentive for companies to stop offering health insurance because ‘the penalty for paying is much lower per employee than the average cost of playing…”
The report credits this specific language to an internal presentation conducted by American Express.
However, the Wall Street Journal, which attempted to contact several of the companies mentioned in the report, found no conclusive evidence that health reform will drive employers to drop coverage in droves.
Louise Radnofsky writes for WSJ:
“Several who were mentioned in the report told The Wall Street Journal they have no plans to drop their health-insurance coverage…Whether the health-care overhaul will prompt employers to drop their health insurance is a subject of intense debate. Several studies have found that most employers don’t expect to do so once workers have the option of buying policies through insurance exchanges, set to begin in 2014. But consultants say employers with lower-wage workers may be more likely to shift workers to exchanges.”
Radnofsky’s investigation implies that evidence cited in the final committee report may be skewed or misleading because it is actually analysis given to these employers from benefits consultants, and that the employer’s intention does not necessarily reflect the advice or research presented to them.
For example, Radnofsky reports, Comcast received a report in April 2010 from Mercer that “projected additional health-care costs for the company of up to $48.3 million under the new system as more employees enrolled in the company plan to ensure they had health insurance. The report predicted that ‘some companies will terminate their plans and exit’ the health-care market.’
“A person close to Comcast said the company had told the congressional committee that the company didn’t endorse Mercer’s findings and that it hasn’t changed course in its health-care-coverage policy in response to the overhaul law.”
The report of course was followed by partisan suspicions and the Republican lawmakers who reportedly championed it are being accused of sidestepping or omitting facts.
“Democrats on the Energy and Commerce committee had previously accused Republicans of harassing companies that were participating in the president’s jobs council,” Radnofsky writes. “The top Democrat on the committee, Henry Waxman of California, criticized the final report as ‘replete with misleading, inaccurate, out-of-context and contradictory statements.’”
“The report conveniently omits the responses from companies that said health reform would not increase costs,” Waxman said.
The “will they or won’t they drop coverage?” debate was seemingly ignited last June, when McKinsey and Co. revealed a controversial survey that found one-third of employers will most likely drop health coverage after health exchanges are established in 2014.
The firestorm spread to Washington when Democratic lawmakers quickly demanded for McKinsey to reveal the methodology behind its survey. Less than two weeks later, McKinsey dropped the curtain on its findings.
Another milestone in the civil rights cause of this century.
A U.S. judge on Wednesday ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and said a federal government worker should be allowed to enroll her same-sex spouse in her health insurance coverage, the latest rebuke of a law reviled by gay rights activists.
The ruling came from U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White in San Francisco who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.
Congress passed DOMA in 1996 and President Bill Clinton signed it into law. It prevents same-sex couples who are legally married in a handful of states from enjoying more than 1,000 federal benefits awarded to heterosexual married couples.
Rita Lin, an attorney for the plaintiff, said on Wednesday that White’s ruling could have wide implications for same-sex couples in areas like tax and pension benefits.
“The reasoning of the opinion applies to anyone who has been discriminated against under DOMA,” Lin said.
Attorneys for the House of Representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.
Plaintiff Karen Golinski has worked as a staff attorney for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco for over 20 years.
She sued the U.S. government after it refused to enroll her spouse, Amy Cunninghis, on her federal family health insurance plan. The couple married during a five-month legal window in California before voters in 2008 passed Proposition 8, a gay marriage ban.
Local government officials are reacting with dismay following the enactment of a state ban on domestic partner benefits for public employees in Michigan.
The partners of at least 21 employees in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County government stand to lose their health insurance coverage now that Gov. Rick Snyder has signed the ban.
Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber said the city of Ypsilanti hasn’t yet determined the impact. But in Ann Arbor, a handful of city employees stand to lose their benefits now.
Ann Arbor Mayor John Hieftje said city officials will be looking to see if there’s any “wiggle room” in the law that might allow the city to continue providing domestic partner benefits.
“I certainly would like to maintain benefits for all of our employees,” he said. “I think it’s not in the interests of Ann Arbor or even the state of Michigan to exclude people from benefits that are available to other employees. And it’s certainly going to hurt the city.”
The state’s 2004 constitutional ban on same-sex marriage has been ruled to ban public entities from providing health insurance to the gay and lesbian partners of their employees. Some government entities, including Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, have tried to work around the ban with live-in language that omits any reference to a same-sex relationship.
City Administrator Steve Powers said the city of Ann Arbor has been offering domestic partner benefits as long as the employee and “other qualified adult” have lived together for 18 months. He said 12 adults currently receive such coverage from the city.
The county’s policy is similar. County Administrator Verna McDaniel said the county provides domestic partner benefits to nine “other eligible adults” right now.
Snyder’s signing of the controversial legislation has spurred criticism from Democrats and liberal groups that consider the legislation an attack on gays and lesbians. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan has vowed to challenge the law in court.
It is unclear whether the bill applies to state universities, although Snyder asserts that it does not. House Republicans, meanwhile, say it does apply to university employees.
Most political insiders are expecting the issue to be decided in the courts. State Rep. Dave Agema, R-Grandville, the bill sponsor, maintains that universities aren’t above the law.
According to other news reports, Gary Glenn, an anti-gay activist who is running for the U.S. Senate as a Republican, is calling for a formal attorney general opinion on the issue.
Snyder maintains his signing of the ban is a continuation of his efforts to help address “the spiraling costs of health care and other post-retirement benefits.”
The ban has been strongly opposed by the Ann Arbor City Council, Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Regional Chamber of Commerce, University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University.
“We’ve been looking at the law as it came out of the Legislature, and we passed a resolution against it,” Hieftje said. “Now that it’s final, we’ll be taking a deeper look.”
Even though the law doesn’t apply to private employers, Hieftje said he thinks it’s going to hurt businesses in Michigan.