The Weekly Pulse: Good and Bad News on Health Care

Lindsay E. Beyerstein

The HHS regulations are likely a done deal, but the movement for health care reform is gaining steam.

There has been good news and bad news in healthcare this week. On
the plus side, momentum continues to build for healthcare reform on
both a national and state-by-state level. Unfortunately, those sneaky rules changes at the Department of Health and Human Services appear to be a done deal.

Let’s start with the bad new first to get it out of the way.  It’s a done deal, folks. Rewire continues its coverage of the eleventh hour rules changes
at the Department of Health and Human Services which will give federal
employees the unprecedented right to refuse to give out birth control
based on their demonstrably false religious belief that hormonal
contraception is abortion. Despite massive public outcry, the rules
have reached the final stage before they officially take effect.

The ever-optimistic Amanda Marcotte sees these tactics as the final stage in the anti-abortion movement’s battle to control women’s bodies.

Unable to enact large-scale bans of contraception and
abortion, anti-choicers have declared a form of trench warfare against
the women of America for possession of the uteruses of America. In real
trench warfare, you “win” a “battle” by gaining a few feet of
territory. In the trench warfare of reproductive rights, anti-choicers
consider a few women inconvenienced, humiliated, or even forced to
become pregnant or give birth against their will a victory worth

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The good news is that either President Obama or Congress can repeal these rules.

Let’s refocus on the positive movement for serious healthcare
reform.  In a sign that Democrats are serious about the issue, Sen. Ted
Kennedy has left the Judiciary Committee
to focus on this issue. Kennedy has been fighting for universal
healthcare since he was first elected in 1962 and describes the current
political moment as the “opportunity of a lifetime” to win this
battle.  John Nichols notes in The Nation that Kennedy’s strong voice for civil liberties will be acutely missed on the Judiciary Committee.

Meanwhile, Ezra Klein of The American Prospect dispels a misconception about Tom Daschle’s
proposed health bank, an agency that would review treatment options and
decide which were cost-effective targets for government insurance
coverage. Some critics fear that the Federal Health Board would somehow
interfere with consumer choice by throwing the massive buying power of
the federal government behind some treatments and not others, thereby
affecting the relative costs of treatments for everyone. Ezra notes
that only 26% of the population is on public insurance and that even if
Daschle’s plan passes in its strongest form, anyone who didn’t like the
options available from public insurance could buy supplemental private

In a separate post, Ezra argues that increased federal government
spending on state-administered programs like Medicaid and S-CHIP could
be an important part of an economic stimulus package.
In a recession, more people need their healthcare benefits because
wages go down and jobs are lost, but fewer jobs and lower wages mean
less tax revenue for the states. States can’t deficit spend like the
federal government. So, without federal help, states are forced to
either cut back health coverage or take money away from economically
stimulating projects like infrastructure. An infusion of federal
dollars could help people in need and help states avoid cutting
beneficial spending.

However, Florida’s expanded Medicaid pilot project is being
criticized by a group called Florida Community Health Action
Information Network, who claim that the program has not lived up to its promise in part because patients are having trouble accessing the care and providers are dropping out of the program.

A group called Health Care for All Pennsylvania
vows that their state will take the lead in achieving healthcare for
all. They argue that single-payer healthcare is a “simple concept –
health care would be provided privately at hospitals and clinics, but
paid for publicly by the government." They contend the plan would
eliminate the insurance “middle man.”

In one of today’s more bizarre health stories, we find tobacco giant Philip Morris likening itself to the NAACP
in order to get out of paying compensation to smokers who were harmed
while the company knowingly misled them about the health effects of
tobbacco. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones explains:

In the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Philip Morris,
America’s largest cigarette company, compared itself to the NAACP. And
to a South Carolina death row inmate illegally denied due process. And
to indigent criminal defendants not afforded adequate legal
representation. And it did so to win a case against an elderly African
American woman named Mayola Williams whose husband died from lung
cancer in 1997, after smoking three packs of Marlboros a day for more
than 40 years.

Over at AlterNet, Martha Rosenberg reports that meat industry
advocacy groups like the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association are
sponsoring “scientific” studies
that purport to show that eating meat is better than the rest of the
scientific community seems to think, which are getting published in
prestigious medical journals. In June, the Journal of the American Medical Association published a study called “The Recommended Dietary Allowance of Protein: A Misunderstood Concept.”

In its Oct. 15 issue, it had to print a correction
stating that author Sharon L. Miller was “formerly employed by the
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association” and author Robert R. Wolfe
received money from the Egg Nutrition Center, National Dairy Council,
National Pork Board and Beef Checkoff through the National Cattlemen’s
Beef Association.

Do they graze their cows on Astroturf, too?

Kind of makes you wonder who’s funding the slew of new research purporting to show that high fructose corn syrup is no worse for you than sugar.

Here’s something that might cheer you up, if you’re feeling
depressed about pseudoscience and creeping theocracy. In a special
series, YES! Magazine explores various answers to the question: How can
we have happy people and a happy planet?

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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