Weekly Pulse: Health Care News Roundup

There has been good news and bad news in healthcare this past 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. RH Reality 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 savoring.

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 coverage.

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 last week'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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