Picture of Pat Reuss

I know that the FIGHT OF OUR LIVES in the months and years ahead will be to Demand and Defend REPRODUCTIVE JUSTICE

 

pat-reuss-20150618_071824-001

Pat Reuss

My friend, Pat Reuss, is speaking truth to power. Thanks Pat for your coherent thoughts.

 

Central Oregon Coast NOW

By Pat Reuss December 12, 2016

Even though I have spent the last 44 years in the women’s movement working for many issues including economic and racial justice, fighting against poverty and violence against women and promoting older women’s issues, the ERA, Title IX and work/family issues, I know that the fight of our lives in the months and years ahead will be to demand and defend reproductive justice.  If we lose the constitutional and political gains we’ve made in reproductive justice, our cogency as a movement and a voice for girls and women will certainly be in question and girls and women’s lives will be at greater risk.  If we go back to treating women as disposable rather than self-determining, whole, autonomous members of humanity, then we lose standing to demand fair pay, safe homes, and equal treatment under the law in all other arenas of life. 

 So…

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The Pennsylvania Health Care Plan

Are you frustrated with your insurance plan? Have you, or someone you love, been denied coverage? Well here in Pennsylvania, we have new universal health care bill that has been introduced to improve upon the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) and provide access to healthcare for ALL Pennsylvania residents.

The bill — HB 1688 — was introduced into the PA House of Representatives on Monday, November 9, 2015 and sent to the House Health Committee for review and mark-up. The prime sponsor is Rep. Pam DeLissio.  Here’s what she says about this new legislation:

I am introducing legislation to establish the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan. 

Similar legislation has been introduced on at least 3 occasions in the House over the past 7 years.

This legislation sets out a blueprint of bold steps that will result in a healthier citizenry at a lower cost with no co-pays, deductibles or premiums or concern about networks and with the freedom and flexibility to choose their health care providers. 

This legislation is possible because the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act allows states the option to innovate with their own health care plan as long as the proposed plan is more economical and efficient.

This proposed legislation meets that criteria.  This option for the states to innovate becomes available in 2017. 

This legislation improves upon our current health care delivery system in many ways.  First and foremost, it preserves the private practice of medicine and the right of patients to choose their healthcare providers.

Briefly, the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan is a system in which the Pennsylvania Health Care Agency administers a plan that ensures the cost-effective delivery of covered services that range from catastrophic care to wellness and preventative care. 

Health Care Providers would have autonomy over patient care.

The program will be supported by the savings realized from replacing today’s less than efficient, often profit-oriented, multiple payer system with a streamlined Pennsylvania Health Care Trust Fund.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Trust Fund will be funded by a 10% employer tax paid on payroll and a 3% personal income tax.

Using our respective Caucuses as an example, we would save millions in health insurance costs if we were to pay an amount equal to 10% of our payroll.

A benefit to Plan participants is knowing definitively their healthcare cost exposure for the year. 

Graphic display of the details of the PA Health Care Plan as presented by Rep DeLissio to her colleagues in her Co-Sponsorship Memo.

Graphic display of the details of the PA Health Care Plan as presented by Rep DeLissio to her colleagues that she included with her Co-Sponsorship Memo.

And here is a summary HB 1688 (thanks to Healthcare for All PA for reviewing and summarizing the The Pennsylvania Health Care Plan). It…

  • Covers all Pennsylvania residents
  • Gives citizens the freedom and flexibility to choose their health care provider while at the same time preserving the private practice of medicine:
    • Allows free choice of providers, including specialists, without pre-approvals or referral
    • Provides comprehensive coverage
    • Give health care providers autonomy over patient care.
  • Doesn’t exclude or limit coverage due to preexisting conditions
  • Creates cost savings for citizens, businesses, municipalities and school districts:
    • Eliminates co-payments, deductibles, point-of-service and networks
    • Eliminates premiums. They are replaced by a 3% tax on adjusted gross income and Businesses will pay a 10% tax on payroll, (most businesses pay far more for employee health benefits, which will be eliminated under this Plan).
    • Benefits businesses by lowering costs for Worker’s Comp, Vehicle Insurance and Liability Insurance due to removal of medical component.
    • Removes retiree healthcare costs from businesses, municipalities and school districts
    • Creates this cost savings by replacing our less than efficient, confusing multi-payer system with a streamlined single-payer system.
  • Covers all of the following, but is not limited to:
    • All medically necessary inpatient and outpatient care and treatment, both primary and secondary
    • Emergency services
    • Emergency and other medically necessary transport to covered health services
    • Rehabilitation services, including speech, occupational, physical and massage therapy
    • Inpatient and outpatient mental health services and substance abuse treatment
    • Hospice care
    • Prescription drugs and prescribed medical nutrition
    • Vision care, aids and equipment
    • Hearing care, hearing aids and equipment
    • Diagnostic medical tests, including laboratory tests and imaging procedures
    • Medical supplies and prescribed medical equipment
    • Immunizations, preventive care, health maintenance care and screening
    • Dental care
    • Home health care services
    • Chiropractic and massage therapy
    • Complementary and alternative medical procedures that have been shown by the National Institute of Health’s Division of Complementary and Alternative Medicine to be safe and effective for possible inclusion as covered benefits
    • Long-term care for those unable to care for themselves independently, including assisted and skilled care

Currently there are four cosponsors of the bill — Rep Pam DeLissio, Rep W. Curtis Thomas, Rep Patrick J. Harkins, and Rep Mark Rozzi. But we need more co-sponsors and citizen calls for passage of this bill.  So we need your help.

Join us and act now! Contact your state representative now and urge them to support the ‘Pennsylvania Health Care Plan legislation’, this new and innovative health care plan will cover ALL Pennsylvania residents.  Find your representative by clicking on this link. Then call, write, and visit your Representative to ask her/him to cosponsor and support an improvement in our health care system here in Pennsylvania.

Then share this blog with your family, friends, and business colleagues so that they too can call for this change.

Thanks!

Jeb for President? Part I

Once again, thanks Nel for blogging on the full spectrum of presidential candidates. I have been traveling since June 14 and am just now getting back to reading my favorite blogs. As I promised on June 13, I am now catching up on the plethora of presidential candidates that have officially announced their candidacy since June 14. I agreed to reblog Nel’s presidential candidate series. As of today, several more Republican candidates have announced their candidacies since June 14l Of these new candidates, Nel has blogged about four of them. In order of their announcements, they are GOP #10 Jeb Bush (June 14), GOP #12 Donald Trump (June 18), GOP #13 Bobby Jindal (June 24), and GOP #14 Chris Christie (June 30).

Jeb Bush merited three days of blogging. Here is the first one.   You can view the second posting here and the third posting here.

Nel's New Day

The big day has arrived! Everyone knew that former Florida governor Jeb Bush wouldn’t be dashing around the country and coordinating with his Super PAC—something he can’t do after he declares his candidacy—unless he was running for president. Millions of dollars later and on the verge, some people say over the edge, of breaking the law in his campaigning, he’s a bona fide candidate. Here’s what the United States would get with Bush III, as he explains his positions in an opportunistic, passive-aggressive way.

Former Florida Governor and probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, New Hampshire April 17, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian Snyder Former Florida Governor and probable 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks at the First in the Nation Republican Leadership Conference in Nashua, New Hampshire April 17, 2015. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Bush’s Christian belief will guide his governing. That includes supporting the so-called “religious freedom” that merges church and state in laws and courts.

Unmarried women with children should be publicly shamed, according to Bush’s 1995 book, Profiles…

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Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health: Phase Two

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

On June 3, I gave an update on the second roll-out of bills associated with the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. At the time, I did not have the bill numbers associated with each of these new bills nor did I have the information on where they were sent to. Now I do. Here’s that information.

Phase Two

Curbing Political Interference in Providers’ Medical Decisions:

H.B. 2303 will soon be introduced by Rep. Dan Frankel (D—Allegheny) to protect the doctor-patient relationship from directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with standards of care. Senator Mike Stack (D—Philadelphia) has agreed to introduce the Senate version of this bill

Identifying gaps in health care for women veterans:

S.R. 262 has been introduced by Senator LeAnna Washington (D—Philadelphia and Montgomery) establishing a 17-member Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care that will study health care issues unique to women veterans, along with the quality of and access to care for women veterans. It is currently in the Senate VETERANS AFFAIRS AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS Committee. The House version is sponsored by Representatives Pam DeLissio (D—Philadelphia an Montgomery) and Kevin Schreiber (D-York); their co-sponsorship memo is currently being circulated, but no bill number has yet been assigned.

Fighting deep poverty among women with children:

There are three different bills designed to address this issue.

    1. S.R. 62 has been introduced by Senator Chuck McIIhinney (R—Bucks). This resolution “directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to study approaches to family work support programs which will increase income, keep families working and mitigate the circumstance referred to as the cliff effect.  This effect occurs when working parents receive a minor increase in their income that makes them ineligible for various programs that allow them to work such as child care assistance, transportation, food stamps and free and reduced school lunches.  The phenomenon often creates disincentives for poor families to achieve self-sufficiency.” It was sent to the Senate Aging and Youth Committee for review. On June 10, this committee unanimously voted in support of the bill and the bill is now waiting for the next review by the full Senate.
    2. H.B. 2305 will soon be introduced by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D—Montgomery). It will increase the monthly Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits for women in need. This bill will increase the maximum TANF grant amount to 50% of the Federal Poverty Level and would allow annual adjustments to be made based on revisions to this index of poverty.
    3. H.B. 2306 will soon be introduced by Rep. Michelle Brownlee (D—Philadelphia). It will increase in the TANF Earned Income Disregard from 50% to 75% to encourage individuals to work by acknowledging that working families have unique expenses that take up a large percentage of their take home pay. This increase would help offset the additional taxes, transportation, clothing, and child care co-pays associate with working. The current disregard level is not enough to offset these additional costs.  A Senate version to be introduced by Senator Judy Schwank (D—Berks) is circulating a co-sponsorship memo to introduce this same legislation in the Senate; a bill number has yet to be assigned.

Ensuring widows of state and municipal employees get fair pensions:

There are two different bills designed to address this issue. These bills require that a public employee select a retirement plan payment structure that provides no less than a fifty percent (50%) survivor annuity to the employee’s surviving spouse. These bills would bring spouses of public employees the same survivor protections that all other employees currently have. This is necessary since the federal Retirement Equity Act of 1984 does not cover employees of the state, local municipalities, or public schools. These bills mirror the spousal protections provided in federal law. Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D—Bucks) is circulating the co-sponsorship memo in the House for H.B. 2307 and H.B.2308. Senator Vincent Hughes (D—Montgomery and Philadelphia) is circulating the co-sponsorship memo in the Senate to introduce similar legislation in the chamber.

Protecting all employees against sexual harassment:

H.B. 2300 has been introduced by Rep. Michael Schlossberg (D-LeHigh) to amend the PA Human Relations Act to extend the prohibition on sexual harassment to all employers in the state. Currently law only affects employers with four or more employees. This bill is currently in the House LABOR AND INDUSTRY Committee.

Taking Action on the PA Agenda for Women’s Health

Ni-Ta-Nee NOW logo of a woman successfully scaling Nittany Mountain and working for equality

Ni-Ta-Nee NOW logo

And FYI, my local chapter of the National Organization for Women — Ni-Ta-Nee NOW — will be circulating a petition in support of this Agenda at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts in State College, PA on July 10-12, 2014. Our table will be located in front of Freeze Thaw Cycles, 109 S Allen St, State College, PA 16801 from 10 am to 8 pm each day. Please drop by, learn more about this Agenda, sign the petition, register to vote, and join NOW.

Health Care is a Human Right

Mike Stout has just created his newest song entitled Heath Care is a Human Right. Tim Murray made the video of this new anthem for universal single payer health care. Both premiered  on Saturday evening, June 7 in Pittsburgh at a fundraiser for Healthcare for All PA. The video was posted on Sunday on YouTube.

Here’s the video.

And here’s a link to Healthcare for All PA, where you can obtain more information on Single Payer healthcare, how it improves upon the Affordable Care Act (ACA), what’s happening in the US and Pennsylvania to move us toward universal healthcare, and how you can join those of us who see and advocate for Healthcare as a Human Right.

Pennsylvania for Women’s Health Agenda Update

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Last September, a bicameral, bipartisan caucus was created in the Pennsylvania General Assembly to review, discuss, and propose legislation to improve the health of women in the Commonwealth by addressing the genuine needs and concerns of women in the state. The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health was created as a comprehensive plan to address the real-life stories and concerns of women in terms of protecting and expanding women’s reproductive health, improving women’s economic security, and improving safety in their lives.

The First Set of Bills

On December 11, the first five bills were presented and introduced into both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The first set of bills addressed a variety of concerns for women by:

  • Making sure that women receive pregnancy accommodations in their workplace;
  • Creating a 15-foot buffer zone around entrances to health to make sure women seeking reproductive healthcare are able to access it in an orderly and safe manner;
  • Addressing “pay secrecy” and the “factor other than sex” loophole will help to end practices that have enabled employers to pay women less than men for the same work;
  • Expanding access to cervical cancer treatment. This bill is a state Pay Equity bill similar to the federal Paycheck Fairness Act;
  • Eliminating local ordinances that penalize landlords and/or tenants who call the police or emergency services “too frequently;” and
  • Outlawing “revenge porn,” a form of digital intimate-partner violence.

Of the first six set of bills, four have had some movement since my first detailed look at the bills on January 22.

Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act

The House version of the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (HB 1892) was formally introduced and referred to the House Labor and Industry Committee where it is still awaiting a hearing. The companion Senate bill (SB 1209) was introduced on March 31 and was referred to the Senate Labor and Industry Committee; it too is awaiting its first hearing.

Pay Equity

The Pay Equity Bill basically hasn’t moved since being introduced. The House version (HB 1890) was introduced and referred to House Labor and Industry Committee on February 19. The Senate version (SB 1209) was introduced and referred to Senate Labor and Industry Committee on March 31; it has not moved since its introduction. However, the House sponsors of HB 1890 have filed a “Resolution to discharge committee from further consideration.” This was filed on April 7. This type of resolution is a rarely used tactic to force debate on a bill when the chair of the committee the bill is assigned to refuses to hold hearings on the bill. We are now waiting to see how the full House will respond to this resolution.

Victims of Crime

The bill protecting victims of crime by eliminating local ordinances that penalize landlords and/or tenants who call the police or emergency services “too frequently” (HB 1796) was introduced on October 22. After its introduction, the House Local Government Committee amended the bill to clarify that bill only applies to cases that involve victims of violence, abuse, or “individuals in an emergency” if the person making the call had a reasonable belief that police intervention or emergency assistance was needed. It unanimously passed House January 14, 2014. It was then referred to Senate Local Government Committee. January 21, 2014. Unfortunately, on March 11 the Senate Local Government Committee was tacked on an ALEC bill as an amendment, turning this good bill into a bad bill. This local ordinance sick-leave preemption bill undermines the safety of domestic violence victims. Under the amendment, local governments would lose their authority to require employers to offer paid or unpaid leave to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Leave from employment is often critical to a victim’s survival in both the short- and long-term. This amendment adds another purpose and intent to HB 1796 that conflicts with its original commitment to protect victims. Advocates, including but not limited to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Women’s Law Project, and Pennsylvania NOW, are urging the legislature to support the version of HB 1796 that was passed by the House of Representatives and to remove the problematic language that was adopted in Senate Local Government Committee. We still support the portion of HB 1796 that would eliminate local nuisance ordinances that penalize a victim for seeking help from emergency services. As a result of our subsequent lobbying to remove this amendment, the Senate has temporarily tabled the bill.

Revenge Porn Prohibition

The “Revenge Porn” bill is the most successful of this first round of bills. The Senate version (SB 1167) was amended in Senate Judiciary Committee January 14, 2014 and sent to the floor for 1st consideration. It unanimously passed the Senate on January 28, 2014 and is now residing in the House Judiciary Committee alongside HB 1901.

The Second Set of Bills

Today, the Women’s Health Agenda Caucus announced the second package of bills to be introduced. They include five bills intended to:

  • Curb political interference in providers’ medical decisions. This bill protects the doctor-patient relationship from directives to practice care in a manner that is not in accordance with standards of care;
  • Identify gaps in health care for women veterans by establishing the Task Force on Women Veterans’ Health Care to study health issues facing women veterans;
  • Fight deep poverty among women with children. This bill Includes a study of family work support programs in the Commonwealth, increases the monthly Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits for women in need; and increases in the TANF Earned Income Disregard;
  • Ensure that widows of state and municipal employees get fair pensions by requiring public employees to obtain spousal consent for benefit payment structures that do not provide at least a 50% survivor benefit; and
  • Protect all employees against sexual harassment by extending the prohibition on sexual harassment to all employers in the state.

Pennsylvania NOW is one of the organizations supporting this full agenda to improve women’s health. I am their lobbyist. At the press conference this morning, I handed out our statement of support. In that statement, I supported each of these bills, saying, “It’s high time that doctors were supported in their right to refuse to provide medically inaccurate information. The increases to TANF cash assistance grant levels and the eligibility asset limit will encourage saving and financial independence. We’re also glad to see sexual harassment protections extended to all workers, and see that female veteran’s health concerns finally get the attention it deserves.”

As advocates for women’s health and equity we are pleased to see the legislature taking a pro-active stance to help improve the lives of women here in Pennsylvania. As Caryn Hunt said in the Pennsylvania NOW press release, ““The women of Pennsylvania need – and now finally have – champions in the legislature who recognize that government must work for all of the people, women included.” We are pleased and “strongly support this Agenda that puts the health and well-being of women and their families first.”

(note: The bill numbers associated with each of these bills will be announced on this blog as soon as I know what they are or will be.)

 

The French Way or the Broken US Way of Healthcare?

Advocates for Single Payer Healthcare Rallying in 2009 in Harrisburg, PA

Advocates for Single Payer Healthcare Rallying in 2009 in Harrisburg, PA

Anya Schriffrin has just written a wonderful piece on universal health care from the French perspective called “The French Way of Cancer Treatment.”  She discusses the differences in the treatment her father received at Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital v. his treatment at Cochin Hospital, a public hospital in Paris.

The differences she saw in her father’s cancer treatment in both countries included:

Issue

At Sloan Kettering (United States)

At Cochin (France)

 

Average length of treatment day

7.5 hours

90 minutes

How specialists see patients

Patient traveled to each specialist’s office

All specialists came to see patient either in home or in the hospital room.

Treatment received

Chemo selected based on insurance company’s formulary

Chemo selected based on doctor’s determination of best treatment

Who paid for meals while in hospital

Patient

Hospital: Included in treatment

Who paid for transportation to and from hospital

Patient and/or Insurance Company

Hospital: Included in treatment

Type of medical care

Insurance based, for-profit

Universal Health Care

Average cost/person for medical care in each country (2011)

$8,608

$4,086

% of Country’s Gross Domestic Product for Health Care

17.9%

11.6%

 

The one statement that stood out for me on the French system was this:

“There were other nice surprises. When my dad needed to see specialists, for example, instead of trekking around the city for appointments, he would stay in one room at Cochin Hospital, a public hospital in the 14th arrondissement where he received his weekly chemo. The specialists would all come to him. The team approach meant the nutritionist, oncologist, general practitioner and pharmacist spoke to each other and coordinated his care. As my dad said, ‘It turns out there are solutions for the all the things we put up with in New York and accept as normal [emphasis added].’

As a cancer survivor, I can attest to similar experiences in the United States just about a quarter century ago.  Nothing has changed.  Like Ms. Schriffrin’s father, my visits to the hospital often took 7-8 hours after getting up way before the break of dawn to travel 3 hours to the hospital to be one of the first people to wait in line to see the doctors and other specialists.  I too had one doctor who wandered in to the clinic for my chemo 7-8 hours AFTER he was scheduled for treating patients. In that particular case, he kept patients and nursing staff waiting until about an hour after the clinic should have closed for the day.  And I had to fight for my life with two insurance companies in order to get the bone-marrow transplant I needed.

My story is similar to many others here in the states.  That’s why I support national universal, single-payer healthcare via Congressman John Conyers’ (D-MI) HR 676 in the United States.  It’s why I support federal legislation to expand the Affordable Healthcare Act to all states to create a state-level single-payer plan like what Vermont has already passed and signed into law. It’s why I support the plan that Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has crafted; it’s called the American Health Security Act of 2013 bill and it creates state-level single-payer healthcare programs with Federal support.   It’s why I am a board member of Health Care for All PA Education Fund.  And it’s why I support the Pennsylvania Health Care Plan proposed by Pennsylvania State Senator Jim Ferlo.

We can do better here in the US.  Better than what Ms. Schriffrin’s father and I have both experienced.

Let’s fix this broken US healthcare system.  Let’s create access to quality healthcare for all via a universal, single-payer healthcare program in the United States.  Check it out.  Let’s do healthcare the French Way in the American style as suggested by Congressman John Conyers Jr. (D-MI), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT),  PA Senator Jim Ferlo, the state of Vermont, and Health Care for All PA.

Roe v Wade Anniversary: Pro-Active Legislative Agendas

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women's Health

Logo for the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health

Today is the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by the US Supreme Court that says that women have a constitutional right of access to safe abortion services throughout the country.  Since 1973, the right-wing has been pushing back and chipping away at this right. These attacks over the decades have expanded beyond access to abortion and now include all areas of family planning and access to women’s health care. As a result, women’s rights and reproductive justice advocates have been on the defense in an attempt to ensure that all women of reproductive age have full access to all forms of reproductive health.

For a very long time, conservatively controlled legislatures have narrowly focused on restricting women’s access to abortion and reproductive health services. We need a pro-active legislative agenda at the national and state levels to counter this chipping away of our basic rights.  And this is starting to occur.

It’s something we need to focus on, spread the word about, and celebrate on this 41st anniversary of the Roe decision.

Advocates for reproductive justice have had some success in 2013 in their pushback on our back reproductive and healthcare rights.  For example, Texas Senator Wendy Davis, with the assistance of thousands of advocates crowding the capital successfully delayed the passage of an onerous anti-abortion law. And the city of Albuquerque voted down an anti-abortion referendum.

Legislatures too have started to pushback.  And that’s what I’d like to focus on today. Two states so far have decided to take a pro-active stance – New York and Pennsylvania.

New York

Last year, New York State decided to fight back with their “9 Point Plan for Women’s Equality.”  This plan, known as the Women’s Equality Act covers nine broad areas of concern:

  1. Safeguarding Reproductive Health by a) codifying the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, b) ensuring that women can obtain a safe, legal abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy; c) ensuring that physicians won’t be prosecuted for providing this care; and d) retaining the provisions in current law that would prosecute those who harm women;
  2. Ending Pregnancy Discrimination by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace;
  3. Fighting Human Trafficking by a) creating an “affirmative” defense of being trafficked when a person is charged with prostitution, b) increasing penalties for both sex and labor trafficking, c) creating the ability for victims of trafficking to take civil action against their perpetrator, and d) creating some new criminal offenses in increasing level of severity for some forms of trafficking;
  4. Supporting Domestic Violence Victims by creating a pilot program to allow victims of domestic violence to testify remotely against the alleged perpetrator of violence when requesting a protection from abuse order;
  5. Creating Fair Access to Housing by adding source of income and status as a domestic violence victim to the state’s anti-discrimination law;
  6. Ending Familial Status Discrimination in Employment by adding protections in the state’s anti-discrimination law for employees who have children 18 years or younger residing in the home;
  7. Allowing Payment of Attorney Fees by granting litigants who win a sex discrimination case the ability to receive attorney fees as part of the settlement;
  8. Improving the Sexual Harassment Law by expanding the prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace to employers with fewer than four employees so that all places of employment are covered; and
  9. Securing Equal Pay by a) closing a loophole in New York’s law that allows employers to justify lower wages for women, b) outlawing wage secrecy policies, and c) increasing damages to prevailing litigants for up to 300% of unpaid wages.

In June 2013, Governor Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act was blocked in the NY State Senate because there were enough right-wing legislators who decided to quash the bill due to a provision in the package bolstering access to abortions. However, advocates have not given up. Governor Cuomo has renewed his commitment to passage of the Women’s Equality Act and advocates in New York State are gearing up for another run for successful passage of this bill.

Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania legislators recognized this positive effort from our sister state to the north.  In September 2013, a group of Senators and Representatives from both sides of the aisle formed a new legislative caucus to proactively focus on women’s health and equity.  It is called the Women’s Health Caucus. This bi-partisan caucus is co-chaired by Representative Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny and Senators Judy Schwank, D-Berks and Chuck McIlhinney, R-Bucks.

Rather than the narrow efforts commonly seen in Pennsylvania General Assembly to restrict women’s access to reproductive health programs, the Women’s Health Caucus was formed to redirect legislation towards a woman’s health equity agenda. This broad, proactive agenda covers reproductive health, women’s economic security, and women’s safety.

To celebrate the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I decided to summarize the bills that have both been introduced and those that are in the works for introduction later this year that focus on some portion of women’s reproductive health and focus on some of the other bills at a later date. This is a work in progress by the Women’s Health Caucus and as such, there may be more bills in process that I don’t yet know about.  The ones discussed here are the health-related bills that have been introduced or have been discussed as potential bills by the Caucus.

Bills in Pennsylvania Legislature to Honestly Address Women’s Needs

As I stated in a blog in September reporting on the first meeting of the Caucus, the Women’s Health Agenda package of bills can be divided into three groups—reproductive health issues, women’s safety, and economic sustainability.  The focus here today is on the bills associated with reproductive health.

On December 11, 2013, the Women’s Health Caucus introduced the first seven bills in the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health.  Four of the seven bills announced that day focus on some aspect of women and children’s health.  Three of these bills have been introduced and are currently in committee in at least one, if not both, Houses.  The fourth bill is still being circulated for co-sponsors in both the House and Senate.

Healthcare-Related Bills that Have Been Introduced and are in Committee

Sanitary conditions for nursing mothers

This legislation requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for employees who need to express breast milk. It fixes two main loopholes that are present in federal law under the Affordable Care Act. It would apply to all employees, including those that are exempt from federal overtime provisions. It also requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for mothers to express milk beyond one year after birth. This legislation mirrors the federal provision that exempts small employers from these requirements if these requirements present an undue hardship on the employer. Representative Mary Jo Daley is the prime sponsor of this bill in the House of Representatives.  It was officially introduced H.B. 1895 on December 12, 2013 with 22 co-sponsors and is awaiting first review in the House Labor and Industry Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Daley describes this workplace need for nursing mothers:

“Study after study makes it abundantly clear – both mothers and children benefit from breast milk. For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula and helps fight against disease. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk help protect babies from illness. For mothers, breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of health problems such as diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers, and postpartum depression. Moreover, breastfeeding mothers miss fewer days from work because their infants are sick less often.

Currently, approximately two dozen states have laws on the books relating to expressing milk in the workplace. Sadly, Pennsylvania does not. The only applicable law on breastfeeding that applies to employers in the Commonwealth is the Affordable Care Act’s amendment to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. This federal law requires employers to provide a private, sanitary space for non-exempt employees to express milk for up to one year after the birth of a child. However, exempt employees include those that are on salary (exempt from federal overtime provisions), often in managerial positions.”

Ensuring access to health care facilities:

This legislation creates a 15-foot buffer zone around health care facilities where picketing, patrolling or demonstrating that blocks patients’ access to the facilities would be banned. H.B. 1891, sponsored by Representative Matt Bradford, D-Montgomery, was introduced into the House with 23 co-sponsors on December 12, 2013 and is currently awaiting review in the House Health Committee.  S.B. 1208, sponsored by Senator Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, was introduced into the Senate with 8 co-sponsors on January 16, 2014 and is currently awaiting review in the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

Representative Bradford describes his bill this way:

“Safe and unfettered access to health care facilities should be the right of all Pennsylvania women seeking medical counseling and treatment.  Accordingly, I plan to introduce a bill prohibiting a person from interfering with a person’s right to seek medical services by knowingly patrolling, picketing, or demonstrating in a very limited zone extending fifteen feet from a health care facility, or driveway or parking facility.

Please know this legislation is not intended to limit the free speech rights of any individual.  Other states including Colorado and Massachusetts, and some municipalities such as Pittsburgh have instituted “buffer zone laws.”  These laws were not imposed on a whim; they were a response to increasing threats, confrontation and even deadly violence. It is important to note that buffer zones have been credited, in part, with toning down volatile instances and confrontations.”

Senator Farnese, using his own experience as a clinic escort, describes the legislation he has introduced:

“This legislation will provide safe access to essential health care services when patients are seeking family planning and reproductive health services.  Often, patients seeking services at a healthcare facility are verbally and physically harassed and intimidated.  Having had experience as an escort for women into health care facilities, I have seen first-hand the potential for violent confrontations between patients and demonstrators.

This legislation will be carefully crafted to ensure that patients have unimpeded access to medical services while still protecting First Amendment rights to communicate a message.  In order to ensure both parties’ rights and safety are maintained, this legislation will provide clear guidance regarding restricted entry zones around entrances and driveways of medical facilities.

Currently, Pennsylvania has no such statewide buffer zone.  Two municipalities, Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, have enacted buffer zone ordinances.  Providing for a content-neutral buffer zone at all medical facilities in Pennsylvania will promote the health and welfare of those who visit those facilities for services while maintaining protection for those individuals who would voice their constitutionally protected speech outside such a facility.”

Increased eligibility for breast and cervical cancer screenings:

This legislation allows women between ages of 30 and 65 to apply and qualify for the state Healthy Woman Program. H.B. 1900, sponsored by Rep. Maria Donatucci, D-Philadelphia/Delaware, was introduced on January 2, 2014 and is awaiting review in the House Human Services Committee.  There is not a companion Senate bill yet.

Representative Donatucci describes the need for greater access to breast and cervical cancer screening:

“The statistics surrounding breast and cervical cancers are truly alarming. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2010, 206,966 women were diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States, and 40,996 women died from the disease.  Except for skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women and is one of the most deadly. While the risk of contracting breast cancer increases with age, large numbers of young women face the reality of this disease every year. With regards to cervical cancer, the disease is often not diagnosed because of missed opportunities for screening, early diagnosis, and treatment. All women are at risk for the disease, but it is most common in women over the age of 30. Each year, about 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.

Act 74 established a program to support breast and cervical cancer screening services to low-income, underinsured, and uninsured women 40 to 49 years of age through DoH’s Healthy Woman Program. Before the implementation of Act 74, the program only had sufficient federal funding to provide these screening services to women ages 50 to 64. Today, the program is funded through a combination of department funds and through a grant DoH receives from CDC. My legislation will increase access to these important health screenings [by lowering the age of initial access to women.  This would] allow women between the ages of 30 and 65 to qualify for the Healthy Woman Program if they meet all other applicable requirements. The statistics show that these types of cancer are not confined to women of a particular age. As such, screening qualifications should be expanded in this state to reflect this reality. The money we spend on screening today saves thousands in treatment costs down the road.”

Co-Sponsorship Memo Being Circulated

Workplace accommodations for pregnant women:

This legislation requires an employer to make reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the employer’s operations. Two bills, one in the House and one in the Senate were announced on December 11, 2013.  H.B. 1892 is sponsored by Representative Mark Painter, D-Montgomery; and S.B. 1209 is sponsored by Senator Matt Smith, D-Allegheny. Both bills are currently being circulated for co-sponsors.

Senator Smith’s co-sponsorship memo summarizes his bill (S.B. 1209) this way:

“Currently, federal law protects women from being fired or otherwise discriminated against due to pregnancy; however it does not require employers to provide pregnant women with certain necessary and temporary accommodations to ensure their health and safety during pregnancy. My legislation would bridge this gap.

Three-quarters of women entering the workforce will be pregnant and employed at the same time during their careers, and my legislation would ensure that they can balance each part of their life in a way that is safe and practical for all parties involved.”

Representative Painter has named his version of this legislation The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.  His co-sponsorship memo describes HB 1892 this way:

“This year marks the 35th anniversary of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).  The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit employment discrimination due to childbirth, pregnancy, or similar related medical conditions.

Today, unfortunately, pregnancy discrimination remains a persistent and growing problem.

In the majority of cases, the accommodations women need are minor, such as permission to sit periodically, the ability to carry a water bottle, or help lifting heavy objects.  Those women who continue working without having these medically-advised accommodations risk their health and increase the likelihood of pregnancy complications.

Pregnancy discrimination causes significant and long-term harm to women and their families well beyond pregnancy, to include the loss of health benefits, job seniority, and wages.  These losses also contribute to measurable long-term gender-based pay differences.

The Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would make it unlawful for a covered entity to refuse reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless those accommodations would prove an undue hardship on the entity’s operations.”

Other Women’s Healthcare Bills in Pennsylvania that Are Being Discussed but Have Not Yet Been Introduced

As I mentioned in my blog at the end of September when the Women’s Health Agenda Caucus first met, there are a total of at least 24 bills that are/will be part of the “Agenda for Women’s Health.”  At least two of these bills are directly related to Reproductive Justice and Health. They were not part of the original roll-out, but are somewhere in the process of being written and/or circulated for co-sponsorship. I do not know when these bills will be introduced.

  • Inmate Shackling: Strengthen pregnant inmate shackling law (Act 45 of 2010) to cover the entire pregnancy and a reasonable postpartum period for mother-child bonding and to eliminate the tasering of any incarcerated woman known to be pregnant.
  • Medical Professional Conscientious Right to Refuse to Deliver Medically Inaccurate Information: Protect physician-patient relationships from political intrusion.

So on this 41st anniversary of Roe, I will celebrate this day by reiterating a statement I made on December 11, 2013:

“The ideas for change in this package of bills come from real-life stories of women. They include calls to service agencies, cries for help on hot lines, requests for advocacy, and lots of research to back up the anecdotal stories. As advocates, we realize there are other areas of concern, but believe the Women’s Health Caucuses’ agenda items are a great start.”

Thanks to everyone who is working for these two pro-active women’s health agendas. Thanks to the advocates across the country who have taken the momentum to stand up for our lives. And have a great Roe v. Wade Day as we go on the offense for women’s health and lives.

Does @Walmart provide good healthcare? NO!

Does @Walmart provide good healthcare benefits? Find out at @ChangeWalmart: (Short answer: no) #WalmartStrikers

Here are some bullet points from this article:

  • Walmart’s health care plans stopped covering any employee working less than 24 hours per week in 2012;
  • States are forced to cover hundreds of thousands of Walmart employees under their state’s Medicaid and state-based low-income health care plans.  In fact, of the 23 states making reports disclosing employers of recipients receiving state assistance, 21 report that Wal-Mart has the largest number of employees on the public roll; and
  • According to a Wal-Mart Manager (Gretchen Adams in 2003), the company encourages employees to enroll in public assistance.

And there’s more damming evidence.  Take a moment and read the full article.

And then join in your local Black Friday Wal-Mart Protest.

Save Centre Crest: A Public Nursing Home and Long-Term Care Facility

Here in Centre County, we have a county-run nursing home facility.  It is located in the county seat of Bellefonte, PA.  Centre Crest Nursing Home in Bellefonte has been county-owned and operated for 73 years. On June 18, Commissioners Steve Dershem (R) and Chris Exarchos (R) called for a surprise and unannounced vote (which may have violated Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law) to transfer the facility to a private organization to be run as a non-profit.  If the transfer goes through:

  • We, citizens of Centre Co., will lose our say in the operation and funding of Centre Crest;
  • Our tax investments could be subsidizing a private company through a rent-free agreement, yet we’d have no say in how Centre Crest would be run;
  • Current Centre Crest employees will have their benefits and pensions cut;
  • The Bellefonte community would lose over $1 million when employees lose benefits and when jobs involving payroll, purchasing, and benefit administration services are outsourced to a private company based in outside of Centre County; and
  • We expect that costs will rise for the residents, most of who are lower-income and cannot afford any of the very expensive private nursing home care that is elsewhere available in the county.

Most of the citizens in the county are opposed to this transfer.  Some oppose the transfer because of the inability for citizens to have a continued say in how the nursing home should be run.  Some oppose the transfer for fear that their loved ones will no longer be able to afford the care and will be forced to move.  Some oppose the transfer because of the expected loss of benefits, including a defined pension plan, should the nursing home be turned into either a non-profit or for-profit nursing home. And some oppose the transfer due to the costs involved.

In 2012, the cost to the average household (not taxpayer, but household) to operate Centre Crest was $25 (5.6% of the county taxes) and it was less than that in each of the four years before that.  The third commissioner, Commissioner Michael Pipe (D) spent several months doing a cost-benefit analysis of either keeping Centre Crest as a fully county-run facility or selling it off.  The cost of Commissioners Pipe’s proposal to upgrade facilities at Centre Crest is less than $11.50 for the average household.  The cost of a suggested subsidy to the county to turn it into a nonprofit is $3 million.  In addition, the proposed plan involves this non-profit receiving the current and proposed new site rent free.  Should the facility be moved, the county could incur an additional cost of $700,000 to $900,000 to acquire the suggested new location (Bellefonte Armory) with no reimbursement from the non-profit.

The current set up, according to Commissioner Pike is a win-win for the county and for seniors.  As he argued before the vote, keeping Centre Crest as an upgraded county-run facility is both an “excellent use of our investments (taxes)” and “provides a home and medical care to our most vulnerable citizens–our seniors.”

The transfer is NOT A DONE DEAL.  Although the initial vote was taken to transfer the home, none of the legal paperwork has yet to be signed and there are some legal actions that are being considered to stop what has happened so far.

There is a better alternative.  Commissioner Pipe presented a plan to keep Centre Crest county owned and upgrade the facility for only $11.50 per year for the average household.

Together we can make this alternative happen.

If you live in Centre County, PA; have family in Centre County; or are concerned about the idea of profit over compassionate care for vulnerable seniors, then you can help stop this decision from coming to fruition.

  1. If you live in Centre County, attend the County Commissioners’ meetings.  They occur at 10:00 am every Tuesday morning. Voice your objection to the transfer during the public comment session at the beginning of each meeting;
  2. No matter where you live, you can donate $5 or $50 to “Centre County Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility.” Mail to: 148 Thornton Rd., State College. PA  16801;
  3. Write a letter to the editor. The local papers include the Centre Daily Times, Voices of Central PA, the Lock Haven Express, the Progress News, and the Centre County Gazette;
  4. Contact the Commissioners directly:
    • Via Letter*: Commissioners Steve Dershem, Chris Exarchos, and Michael Pipe, 420 Holmes St., Bellefonte, PA  16823
    • Email*:  BOC@centrecountypa.gov
    • Phone*:  814-355-6700
  5. Go to http://saveCentreCrest.org, click on “petition,” download, print and then sign it.  You can then, if you desire, you can gather more signatures.  Once your petition is complete, mail it to: Save Centre Crest, P.O. Box 262, Bellefonte, PA  16823

You can also obtain more information and background on Centre Crest, what’s happening, and what you can do by visiting the Save Centre Crest website.