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Federal Lawsuit Targets DHS For Illegally Delaying Health Coverage for 85,000 Pennsylvania Women

Posted by on 10:10 PM in PA Agenda for Women's Health, Press | 0 comments

Federal Lawsuit Targets DHS For Illegally Delaying Health Coverage for 85,000 Pennsylvania Women

Women qualified for full coverage on January 1 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE (1/13/2015) Today, two women’s health organizations and a private citizen filed a federal class action claiming that the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) is unlawfully delaying the enrollment of tens of thousands of Pennsylvania women into comprehensive Medicaid coverage for which they qualified effective January 1. According to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, approximately 85,000 women in Pennsylvania who are currently enrolled in SelectPlan for Women, a limited Medicaid program that only covers family planning services, currently qualify for full health coverage either through Healthy PA, the Corbett Administration’s version of Medicaid expansion, or through subsidized insurance on Pennsylvania’s federally facilitated health insurance Marketplace. “These 85,000 women are the working poor,” said Amy Hirsch, attorney for Community Legal Services. “While DHS is dragging its feet, these women are being denied health coverage.” Dayle Steinberg, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeastern Pennsylvania, which is a plaintiff in the case, commented: “Planned Parenthood provided more than 5,000 SelectPlan recipients with family planning services last year.  We see women on a regular basis who have to delay diagnostic tests and urgent care for conditions we discover, because they lack the financial resources to pay for health care, and their insurance coverage is limited to family planning.  Refusing 85,000 Pennsylvania women the health coverage that they’re qualified for is dangerous and inexcusable.” “No one can deny that DHS has mismanaged the SelectPlan transition,” said Susan Frietsche, staff attorney for the Women’s Law Project who together with Ms. Hirsch represents the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Our clients can’t even get information about their coverage out of the Department because when they call, they get a recording telling them to call back another time.” Hirsch explained that a February 15th open enrollment deadline is looming for approximately 15,000 SelectPlan women whose income disqualifies them for Healthy PA. Applicants must complete the enrollment process in the Marketplace by that date, or miss their chance to get health coverage until 2016. “DHS never told these women they would qualify for full health coverage starting January 1, and they never mentioned the February 15 open enrollment deadline,” said Frietsche, who also called the notices DHS sent SelectPlan recipients in November and December misleading and confusing. “Instead, DHS told them it was evaluating what coverage to offer them and if they want timelier help, they should call the Helpline or fill out another application.” The complaint notes that DHS automatically transferred other groups of limited-coverage recipients to full coverage by January 1 using information already in their system, but is treating the SelectPlan women differently, requiring a manual review at the caseworker level of each SelectPlan recipient’s file over the course of several months before enrolling her in Healthy PA. “This is discrimination against low-income women and it has very real consequences for the Black women and women of color in Pennsylvania,” said La’Tasha D. Mayes, Founder and Executive Director of New Voices Pittsburgh, a reproductive justice organization that advocates for the health of black women and girls and a plaintiff in the case. “As states surrounding Pennsylvania expanded their Medicaid program over the last year, these women were denied full Medicaid simply because of their zip...

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Let’s Leave Politics Behind for the Sake of Healthcare

Posted by on 3:19 PM in PA Agenda for Women's Health, Press | 0 comments

Let’s Leave Politics Behind for the Sake of Healthcare

By Kate Michelman and Carol E. Tracy Pennsylvania is facing a 1.3 billion deficit and the annual state budget is due June 30. The obvious solution is to expand Medicaid, but some Pennsylvania legislators won’t consider it. When Governor Corbett rejected expanding Medicaid as designed under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), the state gave up millions of dollars in federal funds that are still available, ready to be disbursed. By expanding Medicaid, even temporarily, Pennsylvania lawmakers could immediately draw down $600 million dollars for the 2014-15 budget – $500 million more than Governor Corbett’s Executive Budget – which would slash the 1.3 billion deficit considerably. Of course, Medicaid expansion would also mean that the 600,000 Pennsylvanians left in the “coverage gap” without access to healthcare could actually see a doctor. Refusing to expand Medicaid immediately in the face of a budget crisis not only means forgoing $500 million dollars in readily available revenue, but also maintaining an unacceptable status quo that means some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians receive the least help. Currently, because Pennsylvania didn’t expand Medicaid, the qualification cut-off for “traditional” Medicaid for non-disabled parents is 38% of the federal poverty level, or about $9,000 a year for a family of four. Meanwhile, the ACA provides families of four earning between $24,000 and $95,500 a year with tax subsidies to assist them with purchasing a private insurance plan through the online marketplace. Families with incomes between $9,000 and $24,000 are left uninsured. Refusing to expand Medicaid as intended under the ACA has created a bizarre system where a mother of two children who earns $10,000 a year does not qualify for subsidized coverage, while a childless single person earning $44,000 a year does. Healthy mothers mean healthy families. Women’s lack of access to healthcare contributes to ailments that cause premature births, infant mortality and maternal mortality. With recent research showing that pregnant women and infants in Philadelphia suffer higher incidence of maternal and infant mortality than the rest of the country, we can’t afford to continue to play politics with health policy. Health shouldn’t be determined by geography. Every state touching Pennsylvania’s borders has expanded Medicaid. To be clear, the 600,000 working-poor Pennsylvanians in the coverage gap are stuck there simply because they live in Pennsylvania. In addition to improving health and adding $500 million dollars in revenue, expanding Medicaid would create approximately 35,000 jobs. State budget secretary Charles Zogby recently admitted that if the state attempts to balance the budget with only existing revenues, there would be no new funding for basic education, higher education or to reduce waiting lists for services for people with intellectual disabilities. Governor Corbett has been fighting against the Affordable Care Act since he filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the law as attorney general back in 2010. How much longer and how much more is he willing to sacrifice to the game of partisan politics? Medicaid expansion in Pennsylvania need not disrupt the approval process for Healthy PA, the alternate plan Governor Corbett submitted for federal review. (Healthy PA proposes to use the federal funds earmarked for expansion to provide a new form of coverage to low-income Pennsylvanians while cutting and limiting current benefits.) Policy experts point to New Hampshire as an example of a state that temporarily expanded Medicaid while...

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Supreme Court Rules That For-Profit Employers Can Refuse to Cover Birth Control

Posted by on 6:03 PM in Press, Reproductive Rights, Women's Law Project | 0 comments

Supreme Court Rules That For-Profit Employers Can Refuse to Cover Birth Control

Pennsylvania Women’s Advocates Cry Foul June 30, 2014 – In a sharply divided 5-4 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., two for-profit businesses employing thousands of women of diverse faiths, could refuse to include coverage of FDA approved contraceptive methods by invoking the companies’ religious opposition to birth control. “Faced with the choice of protecting the religious exercise rights of thousands of women workers or that of private businesses, the Supreme Court sided with the businesses,” said Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project. “Contraception is an essential part of women’s health care, and today’s ruling is a dramatic setback to the cause of women’s health and economic security.” Kate Michelman, Co-Chair of WomenVote PA stated, “As an advocate for women’s equality, I was dismayed to see that the majority took pains to make it clear that today’s ruling only applies to health care needed by women.” The Affordable Care Act and its implementing regulations require that all new health insurance plans cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods without cost-sharing. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, for-profit corporations that assert religious objections to certain methods of contraception, claimed that corporations have a right to practice religion, and that this right is being illegally infringed by the contraceptive coverage rule. Today’s majority opinion from Associate Justice Samuel Alito did not dispute that the government’s interest in ensuring that women had access to contraception was compelling, but held that other means were available to advance that interest. The Court cited the accommodation already established for religious employers and suggested that the cost of coverage could be paid by with public funding. “We urge HHS to act quickly to fill the coverage gap created by today’s ruling,” said Susan Frietsche, senior staff attorney in the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office in Pittsburgh. “In both this case and last week’s buffer zone ruling, the Court has shown little concern for the health, safety and rights of America’s women,” continued Tracy. “They are sadly out of touch with women’s experiences, struggles, and needs. It’s my hope that these rulings energize every woman and lead to a surge in activism and civic engagement by all supporters of women’s equality and gender...

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Women’s Law Project Denounces Supreme Court Ruling In Abortion Clinic ‘Buffer Zone’ Case

Posted by on 12:40 PM in Press, Reproductive Rights | 0 comments

Women’s Law Project Denounces Supreme Court Ruling In Abortion Clinic ‘Buffer Zone’ Case

Statement by Carol E. Tracy and Kate Michelman June 26, 2014, Philadelphia, PA – The Women’s Law Project and its civic engagement action arm, WomenVote PA, expressed disappointment in the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous  decision in Eleanor McCullen v. Martha Coakley, which struck down a 35-foot buffer zone at reproductive health clinics in Massachusetts.  “Today’s Supreme Court decision, though disturbing, was not sweeping.  The decision is narrow and nuanced,” said Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project.  “Sadly, the decision also was all but silent about the harassment, intimidation and violence that women entering clinics for constitutionally protected health services face, nor did it take note at all that two women were murdered and five others injured at Massachusetts clinics” said Kate Michelman, co-chair of WomenVote PA. “Significantly, however, it did not declare that all fixed buffer zones are unconstitutional nor did it overrule Hill v. Colorado or even discuss it, so floating 8-foot bubble zones within 100 feet of clinic entrances are presumably constitutional today as they were previously” said Susan Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney at the Women’s Law Project. Justice Scalia, though concurring in the judgment, was highly critical of the majority opinion’s reasoning, stating that the specific problems with the Massachusetts law could be easily overcome: “With a dart here and a pleat there, such regulations are sure to satisfy the tailoring standards. . . .” Pennsylvania has two fixed buffer zone ordinances:  One in Pittsburgh that is 15 feet and one in Harrisburg that is 20 feet. “Both ordinances affect significantly smaller areas than the Massachusetts statute. Both were enacted after a history of obstructive and violent conduct that other measures failed to remedy. And both are limited to municipalities. For these and other reasons, these ordinances are different from the Massachusetts law and, we believe, withstand the constitutional test,” added Susan Frietsche. “The Women’s Law Project will continue to work with abortion providers and local law enforcement, advocates, and legislators to ensure that Pennsylvania women have access to safe, legal abortion care,”  added Carol Tracy...

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History in the Making in Pennsylvania

Posted by on 10:52 AM in Legislative Watch, PA Agenda for Women's Health, Press, Reproductive Rights | 0 comments

History in the Making in Pennsylvania

On December 11, 2013, the Women’s Health Caucus of the Pennsylvania legislature announced the first phase of a comprehensive Agenda for Women’s Health. It is a groundbreaking approach to addressing the unique health needs and concerns of women that could serve as a model for other states who seek to improve the lives of women. Historically, Pennsylvania legislature has spent unprecedented time and energy on creating barriers to contraception and abortion, rather than enacting legislation that would improve the health of women, including, ironically, pregnant women and nursing mothers. But the Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, led by Representative Dan Frankel and Senators Judy Schwank and Chuck McIlhinney, made history last week. They took a proactive, positive approach by addressing a wide range of legal and policy barriers to women’s health and equality, and in recognizing that women’s reproductive rights and reproductive health are the keystone. The agenda is not born of ideology, but reflects the very real struggles of real women and families throughout Pennsylvania. The first phase of the agenda is seven pieces of legislation, including protecting pregnant women in the workplace, filling gaps in protection for nursing mothers at work, ensuring unimpeded and safe access to women’s health centers, strengthening the equal pay law and prohibiting wage secrecy, extending health screenings to more women, stopping intimate partner harassment, and ensuring that domestic violence victims are not punished for contacting law enforcement. One of the key pieces of legislation is a 15-foot buffer zone to protect women’s clinics. The prime sponsor of this bill is a former clinic escort who has seen first-hand the violence and harassment that women seeking abortion at these clinics experience. This unprecedented focus on improving the condition of women’s lives comes on the heels of Pennsylvania’s “C-” grade on women’s issues given by the Center for American Progress, putting it 28th out of the 50 states in the treatment of women. We say “given” because those of us who toil in these fields know that the C- grade was generous. It would be tempting for advocates of women’s rights and equality to fall back to the defensive posture we so often find ourselves in or to just be outraged that we need legislation to address matters as basic as permitting a pregnant woman to take a bathroom break or carry a bottle of water. But this positive vision presents an opportunity to make things better for the women of Pennsylvania, who encounter numerous barriers to good health and full equality. And it’s something we can do right now. The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health offers an opportunity for real improvement in the lives of the state’s most important resource — women. And we need to be mindful that this is only the first phase of an aggressive campaign needed to improve the health and well-being of women in Pennsylvania. Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an initiative of the Women’s Law Project that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.” Co-authored with Carol Tracy, who is the Executive Director of the Women’s Law...

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PA Agenda for Women’s Health

Posted by on 10:09 AM in Legislative Watch, PA Agenda for Women's Health, Press | 0 comments

PA Agenda for Women’s Health

December 11, 2013 Women’s Law Project Commends Groundbreaking State Legislative Initiative To Improve Women’s Health Harrisburg, PA – The Women’s Law Project and its civic engagement action arm, WomenVote PA, commend the Women’s Health Caucus, a bipartisan, bicameral caucus of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, as it unveils the first phase of a comprehensive Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health. Led by Representative Dan Frankel and Senators Judy Schwank and Chuck McIlhinney, the Caucus is taking a proactive, positive approach to helping women by addressing a wide range of legal and policy barriers to women’s health and equality. Each component of the Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health arises out of the struggles of real women in Pennsylvania. The first phase of the agenda includes legislation protecting pregnant women in the workplace, filling gaps in protection for nursing mothers at work, ensuring that women’s health centers are safe and accessible, prohibiting wage secrecy, extending health screenings to more women, stopping intimate partner harassment, and ensuring that domestic violence victims are not punished for contacting law enforcement. “Although we’ve made progress over the years, it’s a well-documented fact that women’s health and well-being are still not a priority in Pennsylvania,” said Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project. “This legislation will address real problems that real women have every day, solutions as simple as enabling a pregnant woman to carry a water bottle during her shift and ensuring that women earn the same amount as a man doing the same job. This legislation is the beginning of a full-scale effort by the Pennsylvania Women’s Health Caucus focused on leveling that playing field for good.” “This new legislative focus on real women’s real health needs is long overdue,” said Sue Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney with the Women’s Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office. “For far too long, the Pennsylvania legislature has obsessively focused on restricting women’s access to reproductive health care. That is not what women want or need. We want sensible laws that improve the lives of women, not more roadblocks to women’s health.” Kate Michelman, renowned feminist and co-chair of WomenVote PA, stated, “Rather than helping women achieve the equality they deserve, the Pennsylvania legislature has spent unprecedented time and energy on creating barriers to contraception and abortion.” She continued, “We can’t afford to continue to be one of the worst states in the nation for women,” citing a recent report assigning Pennsylvania a “C-” grade, and ranking the Commonwealth 28th out of the 50 states in its treatment of women. “The Pennsylvania Agenda for Women’s Health has the potential to change that, and it deserves the support of every person in this state.” For more details on the proposed legislation, please visit the Women’s Law Project web site as well as this site in the weeks ahead. About the Women’s Law Project and WomenVote PA: The Women’s Law Project is a Pennsylvania-based non-profit women’s legal advocacy organization focused on high-impact research, litigation and advocacy. The Women’s Law Project has offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. For more information go to www.womenslawproject.org. WomenVote PA is the non-partisan action arm of the Women’s Law Project. For more information go to...

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Pennsylvania Is Failing Women

Posted by on 1:56 PM in Press | 0 comments

Pennsylvania Is Failing Women

So much for Pennsylvania as the birthplace of freedom and democracy. A report last month from the Center for American Progress offered some alarming statistics about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the way it treats the six million or so women who live here, assigning us a “C-” grade, and ranking our state 28th of the 50 states on women’s rights…

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Trading Women’s Rights for Partisan Politics

Posted by on 12:18 PM in Press | 0 comments

Trading Women’s Rights for Partisan Politics

Violence against women is a profoundly serious and disturbing problem throughout the world. Each year, International Women’s Day reminds the world that global leaders have failed to address or find adequate remedies for the horrific tragedies that befall women and girls worldwide. Many of the victims are seeking little more than trying to survive and provide stable lives for …

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How Long Will Equal Pay Take to Achieve?

Posted by on 12:04 PM in Press | 0 comments

How Long Will Equal Pay Take to Achieve?

Pennsylvania, our home state, needs to answer the call to action to sign on to the Equal Pay Today! Our platform was announced in The Huffington Post on Monday in “Fifty Years, Fifty Governors: Are You Listening?” by one of our Campaign partners. The Equal Pay Act became law fifty years ago, yet a wide pay gap persists, at 77 …

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Back to Campus Doesn’t Have to Mean…

Posted by on 2:37 AM in Press | 0 comments

Back to Campus Doesn’t Have to Mean…

Sexual assault and harassment on college campuses have finally gotten the attention of federal authorities charged with monitoring compliance with Title’s IX sex discrimination prohibition. The U.S. Department of Education has issued guidelines for how schools must respond to sexual harassment, including sexual assault. Along with the U.S. Department of …

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