California considers expanding Medicaid to undocumented immigrants: The California Senate is considering a bill, the Health for All Act, that would use state funds to extend Medicaid to the state’s 1.4 million undocumented immigrants, who are currently denied access to Medicaid and the state’s health insurance exchange by the Affordable Care Act. The bill faces an uphill battle: responding to opponents’ austerity narratives, the Senate Appropriations Committee is putting the bill on hold to review it against pre-determined tax revenue calculations in the state budget. This approach to managing public money, which starts with revenue estimates before considering budgetary needs, is the opposite of human rights budgeting. Vermont’s Healthcare Is a Human Right campaign refuted this upside-down approach in its health care financing plan, which called for government to begin by determining health needs, and then equitably raise the tax revenue needed to meet these needs.
More and more U.S. women are dying in childbirth, especially in the South: The Washington Post reports that pregnant women are dying from childbirth at a rate higher than at any point in the last 25 years, and higher than 59 other countries. Of the 188 countries in a new study, the United States is just one of eight in which maternal mortality rates are increasing, and experts say that roughly half of women’s deaths are preventable. This growing problem is particularly acute in the South, where structural impoverishment leaves many women, particularly women of color, vulnerable to diseases like diabetes and hypertension that can cause complications during pregnancy and childbirth, and where lawmakers’ refusal to expand Medicaid has denied health care access to millions of poor people.
States to have more leeway under the ACA, for better or for worse: The Commonwealth Fund has published a useful primer on “State Innovation Waivers” that will be allowed by the Affordable Care Act starting in 2017. Under Section 1332 of the Act, states will be able to request waivers from the federal government that will allow them to change how they manage health care benefits and subsidies, health insurance exchanges, and individual and employer insurance mandates. It is Section 1332 that would allow states to implement universal, publicly financed health care systems, but innovation waivers could alternatively be used, for example, to allow insurance companies to set deductibles at even higher rates than are allowed now, which would put access to health care out of the reach of many people with limited incomes and wealth.
Corporations spend 34 times as much as unions and public interest groups on lobbying: The Atlantic reports that corporations and their associations spend $2.6 billion a year on lobbying, 34 times as much as unions and public interest groups spend together, and more than the combined budgets of the U.S. Senate and House. The biggest companies have more than 100 lobbyists representing them in Washington, and of the 100 organizations that spend the most on lobbying, 95 represent businesses. Health care companies are huge players. In 2003, for example, the pharmaceutical industry successfully lobbied to provide prescription drug insurance, Medicaid Part D, through a market-based approach that used public money to buy private pharmaceuticals but prohibited discounted bulk purchasing. A new study estimates that this policy has given pharmaceutical companies $205 billion in extra profits over 10 years.
World Social Forum statement on the right to health: An international group of organizations, social movements, trade unions and others who attended the World Social Forum in Tunis in April have released a statement on health and social protection that echos the five principles of the Healthcare Is a Human Right campaigns. The statement calls for universal health care and social protection systems that are publicly financed through progressive taxation, transparent and accountable to the public and that enable participation in decision-making. Kate Kanelstein and Anna Gebhardt of the Vermont Workers’ Center participated in the World Social Forum.
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