Abortion debate surfaces in California governor’s race

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-john-cox-gavin-newsom-governor-abortion-20180707-story.html#

Abortion debate surfaces in California governor’s race

The nation’s divide over abortion rights is expected to be a telltale flashpoint between the two candidates for California governor who embrace starkly different views on the issue, even though protections for legal access to abortion have been cemented into state law for decades.

Staunchly anti-abortion and endorsed by organizations opposed to abortion, Republican John Cox argued in 2006 that cases of rape and incest should be no exception to a ban on abortion. Democrat Gavin Newsom wants to increase funding and accessibility for abortion and family planning and is strongly backed by Planned Parenthood, a frequent target of the Republican-led Congress and the Trump administration.

“I think anybody who has a rape and incest exception to abortion really hasn’t thought it through. Killing the baby is not going to absolve the crime of rape,” Cox said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington 12 years before he finished in second place in the California primary.

Cox made the comment shortly before announcing an unsuccessful campaign for president. He also said he was “100% and proudly pro-life and I offer no apologies for it.”

With President Trump’s pending appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court rekindling the nation’s longstanding political clash over the issue, advocates on both sides foresee the court shifting to the right and a possible overturning of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that guaranteed a nationwide right to abortion. Though just speculation ahead of having an actual nominee and confirmation hearings, a change in abortion rights probably would be tossed back into the mire of state politics.

“Depending on who Trump nominates, this issue starts to become an advantage to Democrats,” said Chapman University political scientist Lori Cox Han. “For John Cox, there’s really not any advantage at all.”
Though Cox in 2017 trumpeted his endorsement by the California Pro-Life Council and made his opposition to abortion clear, the issue has not been a major focal point of his campaign for governor. Instead, Cox has portrayed himself more as the conservative antidote to the policies of California Democrats that he says have wrought record poverty and homelessness and unaffordable housing and saddled residents with high taxes, including the recent increase in gas taxes.
It’s unlikely that Newsom or his supporters will let Cox’s past statements on abortion go unmentioned.
Cox has cited his Catholicism and also said his views on abortion were shaped after learning that his father “took advantage” of his mother before marrying her. The couple later divorced.
“She didn’t have the choice of an abortion because it wasn’t legal. If it had been, it might have been an easy decision to terminate me,” Cox wrote in “Politics, Inc.,” a political position paper that was published in 2006. “She didn’t, thank God, and so was born my absolute opposition to abortion on demand.”
Cox, a wealthy businessman from Rancho Santa Fe, also is a strong opponent of the death penalty.
“His personal positions on the death penalty and abortion are well known, but as Governor, he would abide by the law,” Cox campaign spokesman Matt Shupe said in an emailed statement to The Times.
Amy Everitt, director for NARAL Pro-Choice California, said the differences between the two candidates for governor who will be on the November ballot have never been more clear.
“John Cox, who’s never held elected office, has been consistent in one way, and that is as an anti-choice leader,” she said. “His values lie far outside mainstream California values.”
She said the group considers Newsom as someone who has been a strong supporter of abortion rights throughout his political career.
California’s lieutenant governor, formerly the mayor of San Francisco, boasted during the gubernatorial primary campaign about his efforts to raise money for Planned Parenthood to increase access to abortion and other healthcare services for women.

Newsom also has called for the state to increase Medi-Cal reimbursement rates to healthcare providers, including Planned Parenthood, and to provide a permanent $100-million allocation for reproductive healthcare from the money raised by Proposition 56, the tobacco tax increase approved by voters in 2016.

Newsom said California’s next governor needs to be a leader in defending abortion rights throughout the country.
“There’s a deliberative effort to roll back reproductive rights in the country, to attack women, to demean women,” Newsom said during a candidate forum sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice California in January.
“You need leaders to step into that debate. You need to call it out. You need to explain it. You need to expose it.”
Organizers said Cox was invited to the NARAL event, but that he did not respond. It ultimately featured only Democratic candidates.
California first legalized abortion in 1967, years before the Roe vs. Wade decision, and those protections have since been expanded and solidified through legislative statute and rulings by the California Supreme Court. Those protections include the right for funding for abortions provided to women covered by the Medi-Cal program and the right of minors to obtain an abortion without parental consent.
Still, a California governor who opposes abortion possesses enough executive authority to, at the very least, disrupt access, said Susan Berke Fogel, director of the reproductive health and justice programs at the National Health Law Program in Los Angeles. The governor could appoint an anti-abortion director to the California Health and Human Services Agency and cut funding for state programs that help pay for abortions and provide access to birth control, she said.
The governor also appoints judges, including to the state Supreme Court, and could attempt to reshape the judiciary and subsequent legal decisions regarding abortion rights in California.

Decades ago, Republican Gov. George Deukmejian made several cuts to the state’s family-planning programs. Fogel doubts a similar move would survive a legal challenge, but that wouldn’t stop an activist anti-abortion governor from trying, and “it would be disruptive,” Fogel said.

Unlike the U.S. Constitution, California’s Constitution includes a clear-cut right to privacy, a legal foundation protecting a woman’s right to choose to have a child or a legal abortion.

Wynette Sills, director of the anti-abortion organization Californians for Life, agrees with Fogel that even if Roe vs. Wade was overturned, abortion would still be legal in the state.
Still, electing Cox to be the next governor would help prevent the Legislature from making abortion even more prevalent in California. Cox, for example, could use his veto power to reject Senate Bill 320, pending legislation that would require health clinics on University of California and California State University campuses to provide drugs prescribed for medication abortion by 2022.

“Reasonable citizens of California will agree that our state Legislature is to the far extreme in promoting abortion,” Sills said. “We are seeking a reasonable and critical balance to the aggressive abortion actions we’re seeing at the Capitol, and John Cox would provide that balance.”

Most Californians consider abortion to be a settled issue in the state, Han said. For years, they have rejected every attempt to chip away as those protections, including voting against statewide initiatives to require greater parental consent for minors seeking abortions.

A 2017 poll by the Public Policy Institute of California found that more than 70% of Californians believe government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion, compared with the 27% who wanted the government to pass more restrictions. That view was held across the political spectrum, including by a majority of Republicans, and the overall findings were consistent in surveys going back to 2000.

 

‘What The Health?’ Campaign Promises Kept, Plus ‘Nerd Reports’

Podcast: KHN’s ‘What The Health?’ Campaign Promises Kept, Plus ‘Nerd Reports’

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President Donald Trump managed to fulfill — at least in part — two separate campaign promises this week.

To the delight of anti-abortion groups, the administration issued proposed rules that would make it difficult if not impossible for Planned Parenthood to continue to participate in Title X, the federal family-planning program. And Congress cleared for Trump’s signature a “right-to-try” bill aimed at making it easier for patients with terminal illnesses to obtain experimental medications.

Also this week, the National Center for Health Statistics and the Congressional Budget Office issued reports about Americans both with and without health insurance and the cost of subsidizing health insurance to the federal government.

And May’s “Bill of the Month” installment features some very expensive orthopedic screws.

This week’s panelists for KHN’s “What the Health?” are Julie Rovner of Kaiser Health News, Margot Sanger-Katz of The New York Times, Sarah Kliff of Politico and Alice Ollstein of Talking Points Memo.

Among the takeaways from this week’s podcast:

  • The Trump administration’s proposed rule to cut Title X reproductive health funding for groups that perform abortions was designed to meet demands from the president’s religious supporters, but it could backfire by mobilizing liberal voters.
  • The changes being considered might also open the door for some religious-based groups that don’t support abortion — or perhaps even contraception — to get federal Title X funding.
  • Conservatives’ campaign to get a “right-to-try” bill through Congress has been driven in large part by individual patient stories.
  • New data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week shows the uninsured rate did not grow in 2017, despite a number of changes that the Trump administration made to the marketplace and federal promotion of it.

Plus, for “extra credit,” the panelists recommend their favorite health stories of the week they think you should read, too.

 

California’s anti-abortion pregnancy centers want the Supreme Court to overturn state notice law

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-pregnancy-court-20180318-story.html

California's anti-abortion pregnancy centers want the Supreme Court to overturn state notice law

At a faith-based pregnancy center here, rooms are crammed with baby supplies, both new and used, for expectant mothers, and a medical office contains equipment to allow pregnant women to view their fetuses.

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass,” reads a saying on a wall, “but learning to dance in the rain.”

The Alpha Pregnancy Center, located in a storefront on a busy street in the Mission District, is one of about 200 centers in California and thousands across the country pushing the U.S. Supreme Court to spare them from government regulation.

The California centers are challenging a state law that requires them to inform clients that contraception, prenatal care and abortion may be obtained free or at low cost from the state, along with a state phone number for information about Medi-Cal. The law also requires clinics to disclose if they are not licensed.

The case, which will be argued on Tuesday, pits the free speech rights of the anti-abortion centers against government consumer regulations. The decision is likely to affect abortion laws in other states.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld California’s law, but similar requirements passed by cities and counties elsewhere in the nation have fared poorly in the courts.

Mark L. Rienzi, a religious liberties lawyer who represents pregnancy clinics, frames the debate as a question of whether the government can force anti-abortion activists to give clients phone numbers of abortion providers.

“Can the government make you say something you don’t want to say?” Rienzi asked. “They are pro-lifers. They exist to tell people you shouldn’t get an abortion.”

Rienzi said 11 states and local governments have passed laws to regulate what the pregnancy centers must tell clients — rules he argues amount to discrimination against abortion opponents.

Other analysts view California’s law as mere consumer protection. It was passed in response to reports that the centers were luring pregnant women without clearly identifying themselves as anti-abortion.

“The law is so clearly constitutional,” said UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky. “It is one thing to compel somebody to speak. It is another thing to say you have to post on your wall information that is completely accurate.”

Rienzi, though, said California has plenty of resources to let low-income women know that they may be eligible for government-assisted contraception and abortion.

“I don’t think the government gets to turn private speakers into government billboards,” he said.

At the Alpha Pregnancy Center, nothing on the outside of the storefront indicates the group opposes abortion, but it states on its website that it does not provide abortion referrals.

The government-required notice is posted not on a wall, but is included near the end of three pages of a handout that deals primarily with privacy rights. Clients are required to sign that they have been given the form.

During a recent visit, only the executive director and a receptionist were working. A woman walked out pushing a baby carriage.

Most of the center’s clients are unmarried and about 80% decide to give birth, said the executive director, who declined to give her name. The center tries to help the women financially with donated goods and offers classes in money management, life skills, time management, child behavior and potty training, she said.

Brochures in the center are designed to steer women away from abortion.

One contains information on fetal development. At eight weeks, “the elbows and fingers can be seen,” it reads. There are photographs of fetuses at various stages.

Another pamphlet describes all that could go wrong with an abortion and links the procedure to breast cancer, mental illness and relationship problems, claims that those on the other side of the debate say are either false or misleading.

Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that favors abortions rights, said some pregnancy centers use deception to lure pregnant women who may be seeking abortions, while others are straightforward and even help women obtain government-funded healthcare.

The Supreme Court’s decision to review California’s 2015 law delighted crisis pregnancy centers, but it doesn’t mean they will win the case. Votes of only four of the nine justices are needed to take a case, and the court does not disclose those votes.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, often a swing vote, is likely to be the decisive vote in the case, National Institute of Family and Life Advocates v. Becerra, analysts said.

“It’s really hard to know what the Supreme Court is going to do here, ” said Stanford University Law School professor Pamela S. Karlan. “They have two competing impulses.

“On one hand the Supreme Court is extraordinarily receptive to a wide variety of 1st Amendment claims. On the other hand, this is a consumer protection statute, and the Supreme Court has at least so far not shown much interest in telling government they can’t regulate the information” that must be given to medical patients, Karlan said.

Some legal analysts said a ruling against California could hurt the anti-abortion movement by imperiling dozens of state laws that require providers to counsel patients that abortion may harm them.

The Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey said that “counseling requirements are OK in the sense that the state is allowed to prefer childbirth over abortion,” Nash said.

Of 29 states with abortion counseling requirements, 20 require providers to give patients “misleading or inaccurate information” on such topics as fetal pain, fetal personhood, and links between abortion and breast cancer, future fertility and mental illness, she said.

The National Academy of Sciences released a major study Friday that found abortion was safe and debunked claims it increased the risk of infertility, breast cancer and mental illness.

Many of the state laws that require providers to make such claims have not been challenged because of the high costs of litigation, Nash said. But if the Supreme Court rules that California’s law violates free speech, these laws might become stronger targets, she and other analysts said.

“If the state can’t require that pregnant women be able to read a sign that gives them accurate information,” Chemerinsky said, “it seems an even stronger argument that healthcare professionals cannot be forced to utter falsehoods.”

 

Undocumented 17-Year-Old Must Delay Abortion, Court Rules

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An undocumented 17-year-old caught in a legal standoff with the federal government must further delay plans for an abortion after an appeals court ruled on Friday that the Department of Health and Human Services had 11 days to find a sponsor to take custody of the teenager.

The decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit could put her health at risk, doctors say, especially now that she is about 15 weeks pregnant.

“While first-trimester abortion is over 10 times safer than childbirth, the risks gradually increase in the second trimester to those of childbirth,” Dr. Nancy L. Stanwood, the chief of family planning at the Yale School of Medicine, said in an email. Forcing her to wait, she added, “harms her physical health, period.”

Further complicating matters, the teenager only has about a month to get an abortion in Texas, where she is being held. The state has banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy unless there is a medical emergency.

The teenager, referred to as Jane Doe in court documents, found out she was pregnant last month after she was apprehended while entering the United States without her parents.

She decided to end her pregnancy, but Texas law requires a minor to get parental consent or a judicial waiver to do so. She obtained a waiver, but the government prevented her from going to any abortion-related appointments, the American Civil Liberties Union said in court documents, and forced her to visit a religiously affiliated crisis pregnancy center where she was asked to view a sonogram.

An undocumented 17-year-old being held by the federal government is seeking an abortion.

President Trump has worked to restrict abortions since his first days in office by expanding the so-called global gag rule, which withholds American funding from international organizations that discuss or perform abortions; taking aim at Planned Parenthood funding; and appointing several leaders who are anti-abortion, including E. Scott Lloyd, the director of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at the health department, and one of the defendants in the Jane Doe case.

The federal government said that it was not its role to facilitate abortion, and that the teenager still had the option of returning to her home country.

“Ms. Doe has options for leaving federal custody — either by requesting a voluntary departure to her home country (which the federal government is willing to expedite if requested) or by being placed in the custody of a sponsor,” the defendants stated in a memorandum on Tuesday. “Given these options, the government is not causing Ms. Doe to carry a pregnancy to term against her will.”

On Wednesday, a federal judge ordered the government to allow the teenager to get an abortion.

Tanya S. Chutkan, the United States District Court judge who initiated the temporary restraining order, said she was “astounded” by the government’s position.

“She can leave the country or she cannot get her abortion, those are her options?”

The government next argued for the right to appoint the teenager with a sponsor, which would release her from government custody, and said in court documents that the process of securing a sponsor would not unduly burden the teenager’s right to an abortion.

On Friday, the appeals court agreed.

The health department has until Oct. 31 to find a suitable sponsor; if it does, Jane Doe would be able to have an abortion. If she is not released to a sponsor by then, the government has the option of appealing once more.

The 11-day timeline to find a sponsor “seems far-fetched,” said Brigitte Amiri, one of the A.C.L.U. lawyers representing the teenager.

Sponsors are typically family members, according to the health department’s website, who help care for a child who has entered the United States illegally without their parents — often because the child is fleeing an abusive or violent situation.

The vetting process, which includes a background check, can take months, Ms. Amiri said, and earlier attempts to find a sponsor for Jane Doe were unsuccessful.

“They kicked the can down the road, and in this case they kicked the woman down the road,” Dr. Stanwood said. “They are just delaying her care to no end but their own ideology.”

A spokesman for the Administration of Children and Families, which is part of the health department, said in a statement that the care of minors like Jane Doe was important.

“For however much time we are given, the Office of Refugee Resettlement and H.H.S. will protect the well-being of this minor and all children and their babies in our facilities, and we will defend human dignity for all in our care,” the statement said.

The teenager will be 16 weeks and five days pregnant at the end of October, according to the nonprofit legal organization Jane’s Due Process, which has been working with the A.C.L.U. If the appeals process continues into November, the teenager will reach the 20-week mark, which would prevent her from having an elective abortion in Texas.

The sooner the teenager can have the abortion, “the safer it will be for her,” said Dr. Hal C. Lawrence, the executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who practiced obstetrics for nearly three decades.

As the uterus gets bigger, he added, the walls of the uterus get thinner, which increases the possibility of perforation and puts women at risk of additional blood loss during an abortion.

Health risks aside, delaying an abortion can cause emotional trauma.

“Women don’t just wake up one morning and decide they’re going to have an abortion,” Dr. Lawrence said. “And so to make her continue to struggle and be denied access to something which is legal — all that does is increase the psychological stress for her, and that’s not healthy.”

The United States has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the developed world, and abortion has been shown to be safer for women than childbirth.

The A.C.L.U. is considering several options, including further appeals.

For the teenager, the process has been exhausting, Ms. Amiri said.

“She talks about feeling very tired.”

 

Trump rolls back Obamacare birth control mandate

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/06/trump-rolls-back-obamacares-contraception-rule-243537

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The new policy reignites the battle over one of the health care law’s most controversial provisions.

The Trump administration will allow virtually any employer to claim a religious or moral objection to Obamacare’s birth control coverage mandate under a sweeping rollback announced Friday.

The new policies, which take effect immediately, reignite a fierce battle over one of the health care law’s most controversial provisions and quickly drew legal challenges. The requirement to provide FDA-approved contraception at no cost was long opposed by religious groups that heavily favored Trump, and has been wrapped up in litigation for more than five years.

“The United States has a long history of providing conscience protections in the regulation of health care for entities and individuals with objections based on religious beliefs or moral convictions,” the administration wrote in new rules.

The American Civil Liberties Union said it will file a lawsuit on Friday to block the long-anticipated rules from the Trump administration, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra also announced plans to sue. Women’s health groups for months have been preparing lawsuits against the new policies, which they say will enable employers to deny their workers access to needed care.

The Trump administration said it was acting to protect individuals and groups from being forced to violate their religious beliefs as it downplayed concerns that more women would struggle to afford birth control.

“The attempts by the previous administration to provide some protections were inadequate,” said a senior HHS official of the Obama administration’s efforts to provide workarounds for religious groups. “They are being rebuffed here.”

The administration issued two rules — one outlining how an employer could claim an exemption for religious beliefs, the other outlining an exemption for sincerely held moral convictions — on the same day Attorney General Jeff Sessions called for sweeping protections for religious freedom in a government-wide memo that could have far-reaching implications.

The new birth control rules hew closely to a draft that leaked in May and drew swift condemnation from Democrats, public health groups and women’s health care advocates.

“Today’s outrageous rules by the Trump Administration show callous disregard for women’s rights, health, and autonomy, said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “By taking away women’s access to no-cost birth control coverage, the rules give employers a license to discriminate against women. We will take immediate legal steps to block these unfair and discriminatory rules.”

It’s unclear how many organizations will now look to drop birth control coverage from their insurance plans. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2014 Hobby Lobby ruling that closely held private companies could seek an exemption on religious grounds, only a few dozen employers requested one from the Obama administration, POLITICO found last year.

The birth control coverage mandate is broadly supported by the general public, polling has found over the years. And it appears to have reduced women’s spending on contraception. One study estimated that women saved $1.4 billion on birth control pills in 2013 as a result of the coverage requirement. About 55 million women have directly benefited from no-cost birth control, according to an Obama administration report released last year.

“Any move to decrease access to these vital services would have damaging effects on public health and women’s health,” said Haywood Brown, director of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Trump hinted at his plan to roll back the birth control mandate this spring as he signed an executive order on religious freedom, but the regulation had been tied up at his budget office for more than four months. By weakening the mandate, Trump is unilaterally paring back a small piece of Obamacare detested by his conservative base, which has grown increasingly frustrated with the GOP’s inability to fulfill its longstanding promise to repeal the health care law.

The Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate took effect in 2012 after the Obama administration accepted a recommendation from an independent panel to require plans to cover it at no cost to women. The administration exempted houses of worship and unsuccessfully tried to make accommodations for religiously affiliated groups to allow their employees to still receive the coverage from a third party. But those groups rejected the accommodations and filed dozens of lawsuits, leading to two separate Supreme Court challenges, including the Hobby Lobbydecision.

The Supreme Court last year ordered the Obama administration and religiously affiliated organizations, such as universities and charities, to reach agreement on an accommodation that would let employees of such groups have access to no-cost contraception. They never resolved the issue.

Advocates for religious groups called the rule a major step forward after years of fighting the mandate.

“Today President Trump delivered a huge victory for conscience rights and religious liberty in America,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement. “No longer will Catholic nuns who care for the elderly poor be forced by the government to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans.”

The Trump administration argues that women have affordable contraceptive options should employers drop coverage, and that several government programs provide free or subsidized contraception for low-income women, including Title X family planning grants.

But women’s health advocates say that program is already underfunded, and other Trump administration priorities — including stalled plans to repeal Obamacare and defund Planned Parenthood — would further erode access to affordable birth control.

“President Trump’s shameful war on women rages on,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) in a statement. “By ending the birth control mandate, the President and his Administration are allowing employers to stand in the way of women accessing the healthcare that they and their doctors have deemed necessary.”

5 Ways the Graham-Cassidy Proposal Puts Medicaid Coverage At Risk

http://www.kff.org/medicaid/fact-sheet/5-ways-the-graham-cassidy-proposal-puts-medicaid-coverage-at-risk/

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The Graham-Cassidy proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is reviving the federal health reform debate and could come up for a vote in the Senate in the next two weeks before the budget reconciliation authority expires on September 30. The Graham-Cassidy proposal goes beyond the American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed by the House in May and the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) that failed in the Senate in July. The Graham-Cassidy proposal revamps and cuts Medicaid, redistributes federal funds across states, and eliminates coverage for millions of poor Americans as described below:
  1. Ends federal funding for current ACA coverage and partially replaces that funding with a block grant that expires after 2026. The proposal ends both the authority to cover childless adults and funding for the ACA Medicaid expansion that covers 15 million adults. Under Graham-Cassidy, a new block grant, the “Market-Based Health Care Grant Program,” combines federal funds for the ACA Medicaid expansion, premium and cost sharing subsidies in the Marketplace, and states’ Basic Health Plans for 2020-2026. Capped nationally, the block grant would be lower than ACA spending under current law and would end after 2026. States would need to replace federal dollars or roll back coverage. Neither the AHCA nor the BCRA included expiration dates for ACA-related federal funds or eliminated the ability for states to cover childless adults through Medicaid.
  2. Massively redistributes federal funding from Medicaid expansion states to non-expansion states through the block grant program penalizing states that broadened coverage. In 2020, block grant funds would be distributed based on federal spending in states for ACA Medicaid and Marketplace coverage. By 2026, funding would go to states according to the states’ portion of the population with incomes between 50% and 138% of poverty; the new allocation is phased in over the 2021-2025 period. The Secretary has the authority to make other adjustments to the allocation. This allocation would result in a large redistribution of ACA funding by 2026, away from states that adopted the Medicaid expansion and redirecting funding to states that did not. No funding is provided beyond 2026.
  3. Prohibits Medicaid coverage for childless adults and allows states to use limited block grant funds to purchase private coverage for traditional Medicaid populations. States can use funds under the block grant to provide tax credits and/or cost-sharing reductions for individual market coverage, make direct payments to providers, or provide coverage for traditional Medicaid populations through private insurance. The proposal limits the amount of block grant funds that a state could use for traditional Medicaid populations to 15% of its allotment (or 20% under a special waiver). These limits would shift coverage and funds for many low-income adults from Medicaid to individual market coverage. Under current law, 60% of federal ACA coverage funding is currently for the Medicaid expansion (covering parents and childless adults). Medicaid coverage is typically more comprehensive, less expensive and has more financial protections compared to private insurance. The proposal also allows states to roll back individual market protections related to premium pricing, including allowing premium rating based on health status, and benefits currently in the ACA.
  4. Caps and redistributes federal funds to states for the traditional Medicaid program for more than 60 million low-income children, parents, people with disabilities and the elderly. Similar to the BCRA and AHCA, the proposal establishes a Medicaid per enrollee cap as the default for federal financing based on a complicated formula tied to different inflation rates. As a result, federal Medicaid financing would grow more slowly than estimates under current law. In addition to overall spending limits, similar to the BCRA, the proposal would give the HHS Secretary discretion to further redistribute capped federal funds across states by making adjustments to states with high or low per enrollee spending.
  5. Eliminates federal funding for states to cover Medicaid family planning at Planned Parenthood clinics for one year. Additional funding restrictions include limits on states’ ability to use provider tax revenue to finance Medicaid as well as the termination of the enhanced match for the Community First Choice attendant care program for seniors and people with disabilities. Enrollment barriers include the option for states to condition Medicaid eligibility on a work requirement and to conduct more frequent redeterminations.
Much is at stake for low-income Americans and states in the Graham-Cassidy proposal. The recent debate over the AHCA and the BCRA has shown the difficulty of making major changes that affect coverage for over 70 million Americans and reduce federal funding for Medicaid. Medicaid has broad support and majorities across political parties say Medicaid is working well. More than half of the states have a strong stake in continuing the ACA Medicaid expansion as it has provided coverage to millions of low-income residents, reduced the uninsured and produced net fiscal benefits to states. Graham-Cassidy prohibits states from using Medicaid to provide coverage to childless adults. With regard to Medicaid financing changes, caps on federal funding could shift costs to states and result in less fiscal flexibility for states. States with challenging demographics (like an aging population), high health care needs (like those hardest hit by the opioid epidemic), high cost markets or states that operate efficient programs may have the hardest time responding to federal caps on Medicaid spending. Faced with substantially reduced federal funding, states would face difficult choices: raise revenue, reduce spending in other areas, or cut Medicaid provider payments, optional benefits, and/or optional coverage groups.

Last-Ditch Effort By Republicans To Replace ACA: What You Need To Know

Last-Ditch Effort By Republicans To Replace ACA: What You Need To Know

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Republican efforts in Congress to “repeal and replace” the federal Affordable Care Act are back from the dead. Again.

While the chances for this last-ditch measure appear iffy, many GOP senators are rallying around a proposal by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.), along with Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)

They are racing the clock to round up the needed 50 votes — and there are 52 Senate Republicans.

An earlier attempt to replace the ACA this summer fell just one vote short when Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) voted against it. The latest push is setting off a massive guessing game on Capitol Hill about where the GOP can pick up the needed vote.

After Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year, Republicans would need 60 votes ­— which means eight Democrats — to pass any such legislation because special budget rules allowing approval with a simple majority will expire.

Unlike previous GOP repeal-and-replace packages that passed the House and nearly passed the Senate, the Graham-Cassidy proposal would leave in place most of the ACA taxes that generated funding to expand coverage for millions of Americans. The plan would simply give those funds as lump sums to each state. States could do almost whatever they please with them. And the Congressional Budget Office has yet to weigh in on the potential impact of the bill, although earlier estimates of similar provisions suggest premiums would go up and coverage down.

“If you believe repealing and replacing Obamacare is a good idea, this is your best and only chance to make it happen, because everything else has failed,” said Graham in unveiling the bill last week.

Here are five things to know about the latest GOP bill: 

1. It would repeal most of the structure of the ACA.

The Graham-Cassidy proposal would eliminate the federal insurance exchange, healthcare.gov, along with the subsidies and tax credits that help people with low and moderate incomes — and small businesses — pay for health insurance and associated health costs. It would eliminate penalties for individuals who fail to obtain health insurance and employers who fail to provide it.

It would eliminate the tax on medical devices. 

2. It would eliminate many of the popular insurance protections, including those for people with preexisting conditions, in the health law.

Under the proposal, states could “waive” rules in the law requiring insurers to provide a list of specific “essential health benefits” and mandating that premiums be the same for people regardless of their health status. That would once again expose people with preexisting health conditions to unaffordable or unavailable coverage. Republicans have consistently said they wanted to maintain these protections, which polls have shown to be popular among voters.

3. It would fundamentally restructure the Medicaid program.

Medicaid, the joint-federal health program for low-income people, currently covers more than 70 million Americans. The Graham-Cassidy proposal would end the program’s expansion under the ACA and cap funding overall, and it would redistribute the funds that had provided coverage for millions of new Medicaid enrollees. It seeks to equalize payments among states. States that did not expand Medicaid and were getting fewer federal dollars for the program would receive more money and states that did expand would see large cuts, according to the bill’s own sponsors. For example, Oklahoma would see an 88 percent increase from 2020 to 2026, while Massachusetts would see a 10 percent cut.

The proposal would also bar Planned Parenthood from getting any Medicaid funding for family planning and other reproductive health services for one year, the maximum allowed under budget rules governing this bill. 

4. It’s getting mixed reviews from the states.

Sponsors of the proposal hoped for significant support from the nation’s governors as a way to help push the bill through. But, so far, the governors who are publicly supporting the measure, including Scott Walker (R-Wis.) and Doug Ducey (R-Ariz.), are being offset by opponents including Chris Sununu (R-N.H.), John Kasich (R-Ohio) and Bill Walker (I-Alaska).

On Tuesday 10 governors — five Democrats, four Republicans and Walker — sent a letterto Senate leaders urging them to pursue a more bipartisan approach. “Only open, bipartisan approaches can achieve true, lasting reforms,” said the letter.

Bill sponsor Cassidy was even taken to task publicly by his own state’s health secretary. Dr. Rebekah Gee, who was appointed by Louisiana’s Democratic governor, wrote that the bill “uniquely and disproportionately hurts Louisiana due to our recent [Medicaid] expansion and high burden of extreme poverty.”

5. The measure would come to the Senate floor with the most truncated process imaginable.

The Senate is working on its Republican-only plans under a process called “budget reconciliation,” which limits floor debate to 20 hours and prohibits a filibuster. In fact, all the time for floor debate was used up in July, when Republicans failed to advance any of several proposed overhaul plans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could bring the bill back up anytime, but senators would immediately proceed to votes. Specifically, the next order of business would be a process called “vote-a-rama,” where votes on the bill and amendments can continue, in theory, as long as senators can stay awake to call for them.

Several senators, most notably John McCain, who cast the deciding vote to stop the process in July, have called for “regular order,” in which the bill would first be considered in the relevant committee before coming to the floor. The Senate Finance Committee, which Democrats used to write most of the ACA, has scheduled a hearing for next week. But there is not enough time for full committee consideration and a vote before the end of next week.

Meanwhile, the Congressional Budget Office said in a statement Tuesday that it could come up with an analysis by next week that would determine whether the proposal meets the requirements to be considered under the reconciliation process. But it said that more complicated questions like how many people would lose insurance under the proposal or what would happen to insurance premiums could not be answered “for at least several weeks.”

That has outraged Democrats, who are united in opposition to the measure.

“I don’t know how any senator could go home to their constituents and explain why they voted for a major bill with major consequences to so many of their people without having specific answers about how it would impact their state,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the Senate floor Tuesday.