Wednesday, March 12th, 2014
The Supreme Court case that will be heard March 25, which will examine religious objections to the provision of the Obamacare legislation that mandates coverage of birth control, may turn on testimony about the science of contraception–chiefly whether various birth control methods prevent an egg from being fertilized, or destroy an already-fertilized embryo. More from Reuters:
After decades of research the answer is not absolutely clear.
Two family-owned companies, Oklahoma-based arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby, controlled by evangelical Christians, and Pennsylvania-based cabinet-manufacturer Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp, owned by Mennonites, object on religious grounds to a requirement of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law: that employer-sponsored insurance cover contraception.
The companies say they have no objection to covering forms of birth control that prevent conception, the fertilization of an egg by a sperm.
What concerns them are after-intercourse products, so-called emergency contraception such as the “morning-after” pill, which prevent pregnancy.
Anti-abortion groups contend the products act after fertilization, destroying embryos.
“For us, the issue is the life-ending mechanisms that some emergency contraceptives can have,” said Anna Franzonello, an attorney at Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion legal group that has filed a brief for seven Catholic and other anti-abortion groups siding with the companies.
Mainstream scientific and medical organizations, as well as abortion-rights supporters, counter by citing research showing that the vast majority of emergency contraceptives prevent fertilization.
While the Supreme Court will not be ruling on the science, and has never defined pregnancy, many groups have filed friend-of-the-court briefs offering their view of how emergency contraceptives work.
Image: Birth control pills, via Shutterstock
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Monday, January 13th, 2014
A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a Pennsylvania mother hopes to achieve enforcement of a provision of Obamacare that is supposed to entitle breastfeeding women to have private space and time to pump at work. Thirty-one year-old Bobbi Bockoras, who operates a palletizer at a glass factory, claims she was not only denied clean, comfortable space to pump, but also says she was harassed by male colleagues and reassigned to a less convenient work schedule. More from NBC News:
It’s the first lawsuit brought by the ACLU under the ACA’s breastfeeding provision, which is the first federal law to require employers to accommodate nursing mothers on the job.
Bockoras’ case is one of a growing number of lactation discrimination lawsuits highlighting the need for more accommodation and acceptance for nursing mothers in the workplace, advocates say.
Despite overwhelming evidence supporting the health benefits of breastfeeding, “women who choose to continue breastfeeding when they return to the paid workforce face insurmountable obstacles that can make them choose between their jobs and what is in the best interest of their babies,” said New York-based ACLU senior staff attorney Galen Sherwin, who is representing Bockoras.
Bockoras’ lawyers argue that not only was she discriminated against and not accommodated under the law, but she was retaliated against when her shifts were switched. Verallia North America, which is headquartered in Muncie, Indiana, filed a motion to dismiss the case. The company is “committed to providing a respectful workplace” and “takes its obligations under the law very seriously and is committed to abiding by all federal and state employment laws,” it said in a statement.
Bockoras says her previous dayshift schedule has since been reinstated and that the locker room where she still pumps has been cleaned.
Under the ACA provision, which amends the Fair Labor Standards Act, companies are required to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth” and “are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion.” The provision also prohibits retaliation by companies when employees file complaints.
Prior to the ACA, nursing mothers who wanted to pump at work had few rights. An employer could refuse to allow a woman to express milk at work or fire her for doing so.
As more women become aware of their rights under the law, advocates expect lactation discrimination cases to proliferate. “Partly because the ACA offers a new avenue of relief that wasn’t available previously, we’re going to see more claims using that tool to vindicate the rights of women violated on the job,” Sherwin said.
Image: Breast pump, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013
The Affordable Care Act, which is at the center of the debate that’s brought Washington to a standstill this week, requires insurance companies to pay for breast pumps and lactation consulting services for new mothers, as part of a women’s health initiative that is meant to encourage breastfeeding. As The New York Times reports, though, insurance companies aren’t getting the services to enough women since the new rules took effect January 1:
Despite the law, many new mothers have found it nearly impossible to get timely help for breast-feeding problems since Jan. 1, when health insurers began updating their coverage. While a 2011 Surgeon General’s report hailed lactation consultants as important specialists, few insurers have added them to their networks.
Some insurers simply point women to pediatricians not necessarily trained in lactation. Even then, women often must locate help on their own, leading to delays that jeopardize a mother’s milk supply.
Breast-feeding advocates fear this mandate is falling victim to bureaucratic foot-dragging, cost-saving and ambivalence.
“It’s abysmal, the state of lactation services being provided by insurance companies currently,” said Susanne Madden, a founder of the National Breastfeeding Center, which last month published an unsettling assessment of the breast-feeding policies of insurers nationwide. Twenty-eight out of 79 received D’s or F’s.
New mothers face a number of obstacles in breast-feeding, including insufficient milk or a painful infection. Problems must be resolved quickly: when a baby is hungry, there is little time to wrangle with an insurer over payment for a breast pump or a lactation consultant. A delay can mean that mothers turn to formula, don’t establish an adequate supply, or quit.
Image: Breastfeeding mother, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, April 18th, 2013
The new health care rules initially seemed to apply differently to children who were part of the foster care system past the age of 18, but provisions that are coming into effect next year will change that, enabling former foster kids to be covered the same way as other young adults. More from CNN:
While many young adults are now covered by the Affordable Care Act, able to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26, the rules are different for those like [22-year-old Nathan] Cox-Reed, who grew up in the foster care system.
There are more than 400,000 children in foster care in the United States, the Department of Health and Human Services said last year. All are provided with health care coverage as long as they are wards of the state.
When foster kids turn 18, they age out of the system and instantly lose their coverage.
That’s about to change, when another part of Obamacare takes effect on January 1, 2014. Medicaid coverage will be extended for former foster youth until they reach 26, as long as the individual was in foster care and enrolled in Medicaid until the age of 18.
“I definitely think it would be a big relief, and I would definitely feel more secure as far as my health goes,” Cox-Reed said.
But there’s a catch. Cox-Reed has dreams of traveling across the nation and becoming a filmmaker. A future relocation could jeopardize his medical coverage.
States will only be required to keep former foster children on Medicaid if they continue to reside in the state where they were in foster care originally.
This part of the provision is “an incredibly troubling aspect,” said Washington attorney Brooke Lehmann, who founded the child and family advocacy group Childworks. Young adults can be highly mobile as they move for educational purposes, job opportunities and a host of other reasons, she said.
“You can’t be on a film set if you are uninsured,” Cox-Reed said. “You could get hurt. I definitely think [being uninsured] is limiting and it’s a letdown, because what if I do get a job out of state? I might not be able to take it.”
While “it’s a great provision,” said Joan Alker, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families and a professor at the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, limiting extended Medicaid enrollment because of relocation could threaten the provision’s effectiveness.
Image: Teenager at doctor’s office, via Shutterstock
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Monday, January 28th, 2013
A number of religious organizations are filing lawsuits to challenge the provision of the new health care law that requires employers to cover birth control in their health plans. The flurry of lawsuits may mean the question will eventually be presented to the U.S. Supreme Court, legal analysts are saying. The New York Times reports:
In recent months, federal courts have seen dozens of lawsuits brought not only by religious institutions like Catholic dioceses but also by private employers ranging from a pizza mogul to produce transporters who say the government is forcing them to violate core tenets of their faith. Some have been turned away by judges convinced that access to contraception is a vital health need and a compelling state interest. Others have been told that their beliefs appear to outweigh any state interest and that they may hold off complying with the law until their cases have been judged. New suits are filed nearly weekly.
“This is highly likely to end up at the Supreme Court,” said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia and one of the country’s top scholars on church-state conflicts. “There are so many cases, and we are already getting strong disagreements among the circuit courts.”
President Obama’s health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act, was the most fought-over piece of legislation in his first term and was the focus of a highly contentious Supreme Court decision last year that found it to be constitutional.
But a provision requiring the full coverage of contraception remains a matter of fierce controversy. The law says that companies must fully cover all “contraceptive methods and sterilization procedures” approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including “morning-after pills” and intrauterine devices whose effects some contend are akin to abortion.
As applied by the Health and Human Services Department, the law offers an exemption for “religious employers,” meaning those who meet a four-part test: that their purpose is to inculcate religious values, that they primarily employ and serve people who share their religious tenets, and that they are nonprofit groups under federal tax law.
Image: Lawsuit paperwork, via Shutterstock
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