Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health Statement on Gov. Walker’s State of the State Address
Sara Finger, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health (WAWH), made the following statement in response to Governor Walker’s State of the State Address:
Governor Walker and his political allies have spent the past seven years trying to undermine, sabotage, and repeal the Affordable Care Act, much to the detriment of the health and wellbeing of Wisconsin women and girls. As a result, it is hard to take seriously his newfound interest in making healthcare more accessible to Wisconsinites.
Furthermore, his proposals to address health insurance affordability omits the policy solution that would provide the most Wisconsinites with access to healthcare and save the state the most money: accepting federal Medicaid expansion money that was made available to states that are willing to expand eligibility for their state Medicaid program. In addition, accepting federal Medicaid expansion money will likely reduce private health insurance premiums by providing Medicaid coverage to people with health conditions that currently have to purchase private insurance.
WAWH calls on Governor Walker focus his efforts to address health care affordability on solutions, such as Medicaid expansion, that are proven to improve the health of women and families in Wisconsin.
The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary has scheduled a confirmation hearing for Judge Michael Brennan, one of President Trump’s nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
Before discussing Judge Brennan’s nomination, here is a quick history of the judicial vacancy for which he is nominated. All the way back in 2010, then President Obama nominated Victoria Nourse to fill the vacancy, which was created by a judicial retirement. The Senate did not convene hearings on Nourse before the end of 111th Congress, and President Obama re-nominated her again in 2011. However, Senator Ron Johnson had replaced Russ Feingold in the Senate, and Sen. Johnson refused to turn in his “blue slip” on Nourse, which effectively held up her nomination despite Nourse’s extensive vetting and approval by the bipartisan Wisconsin Federal Nominating Commission.
Nourse’s nomination was eventually withdrawn due to Sen. Johnson’s opposition. After lengthy negotiations between Sen. Johnson and Sen. Tammy Baldwin to reach an agreement regarding the process by which future federal judicial nominations from Wisconsin would be handled, the bipartisan nominating commission unanimously recommended Donald Schott for the vacancy, who was then nominated by President Obama in January of 2016. The U.S. Senate never held a floor vote on Schott’s nomination.
This process brings us where we are today with the Trump Administration’s decision to nominate Judge Brennan to what is now the longest federal appeals court vacancy in the country. Despite their previous zeal to obstruct and delay President Obama’s two nominees to the position, it appears that many of Judge Brennan’s supporters no longer think such a rigorous and lengthy nomination process is necessary. In fact, the Trump Administration did not even consult with Sen. Baldwin regarding the Brennan nomination and Judge Brennan did not receive the requisite five votes from the nominating commission that Senators Baldwin and Johnson had agreed were necessary for a judicial nomination to move forward (Brennan received four votes).
Perhaps more importantly than this flawed nomination process, Judge Brennan has also expressed viewpoints that are troubling from the standpoint of women’s health and economic security. According to a report from the Alliance for Justice, Brennan has expressed dismissive attitudes regarding the very real challenges women continue to face in the workplace, many of which contribute to a gender wage gap that has improved very little since 2001.
Brennan shared some of his insights on the matter in an article he authored on “personal responsibility,” in which he cautioned readers to guard themselves against arguments that some individuals or groups of people are denied advancement by a “glass ceiling” or because the rules were “rigged” against them. Brennan hints that these concepts are more a rhetorical “sleight-of-hand” than a genuine problem grounded in gendered societal expectations of women, the lack of affordable child care, outright discrimination, and a whole host of other societal factors that an abundance of research has clearly demonstrated have a negative impact on the career advancement and earnings of women.
The Alliance for Justice report also mentions some other troubling viewpoints held by Judge Brennan, such as his applauding of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down part of the Violence Against Women Act that provided a federal civil rights remedy to victims of gender-motivated violence.
Judge Brennan also played a prominent role in Governor Walker’s appointment of two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices, Rebecca Bradley and Daniel Kelly, both of whom have a record of troubling comments regarding a range of issues. Bradley’s comments regarding people living with HIV/AIDS, members of the LGBT community, the women’s rights movement, and violence against women earned her infamy after her appointment to the state Supreme Court in 2015. Kelly’s comments regarding affirmative action and same-sex marriage also drew substantial attention at the time of his appointment.
At a minimum, the process leading to Judge Brennan’s nomination, his record on issues that are important to women’s rights, and his judgement about who is fit to serve on Wisconsin’s highest court should give members of the Senate Judiciary Committee significant pause when determining whether to confirm his appointment.
Appointments to a federal court of appeals are for life and these judges are entrusted to make some of the most important decisions that shape our rights as citizens and the communities in which we live. With the stakes so high, it makes no sense to abandon the rigorous selection process that has served our state so well in the past. Sen. Johnson should join Sen. Baldwin and demand that a nominee be put forward who can gain the necessary support of the Wisconsin Nominating Commission before this vacancy is filled.
The Wisconsin Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform held a hearing yesterday on SB 634, which would prohibit (or “preempt”) local governments from creating or enforcing many different types of employment and labor protections. State law already prohibits local communities from passing living wage or paid leave ordinances. If passed, SB 634 would add the following labor and employment protections to this list of what local government cannot do:
Many of these types of labor and employment protections are essential for raising the wages and improving the working conditions of working women. Many of them, such as anti-discrimination laws, prohibitions against employers soliciting the salary histories of prospective employees, and laws that protect union organizing rights are critical to reduce the gender wage gap.
The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health testified against the bill, as did several other organizations that advocate for issues to promote women’s economic security, labor unions, and local governments.
The Committee has not yet voted on the bill, nor has the Assembly Committee to where the Assembly version of the bill was referred held a hearing on the legislation. We will continue to provide any relevant updates regarding the fate of this legislation.
If you would like to contact your legislators and urge them to oppose this legislation that would undermine the economic security of many working women and their families in Wisconsin, click here.
In early November, the new tax bill was released by House Republicans with the buzz of the bill being around the idea that this new tax bill would help the middle class. A new tax plan geared toward lifting the middle and lower class would certainly be beneficial to many Wisconsinites. Unfortunately for Wisconsinites, an old saying rings true here, “If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.” While the bill does appeal to middle class families in terms of tax cuts, the problem is that the proposal is simply a ticking time bomb that will expire in just 5 years. That means that middle class families in Wisconsin will be stuck watching their taxes increase in 5 years while the richest among us enjoy disproportionately large tax cuts.
Critics of this new plan point to the fact that the GOP could have chosen to overhaul the tax code in a way that benefited middle class working Americans, but instead chose to give the more impactful cuts to higher-income earners. The structure of the plan is that everyone gets a cut now, which is great, but what has lead articles to call this plan a “con-job” on the middle class is that the good news will only continue for the top 1%. The plan is a bubble waiting to burst, and the middle class will suffer.
Another issue hidden within the plan is that it eliminates the ability for individuals to deduct qualified medical expenses. While the IRS currently allows medical expense deductions to be used on a multitude of medical issues including preventative care, surgeries, and even long-term care expenses for those that are chronically ill, the ability to use this tool will be gone. The burden of these costs will fall not only on the patient, but also on the families that help pay for this type of care.
The new plan also provides new obstacles that disproportionately affect women. The lack of deduction on qualified medical expenses lowers the availability of preventative care, deductions and credits that make it possible to afford a child have been taken out, and the overall lack of emphasis on the middle and working classes will severely cripple the ability of single mothers.
Last week, Republicans in the House passed this tax plan and the Senate is expected to have their turn after their Thanksgiving recess. Now is the time to contact our Senators and ask them to reject the dangerous tax reform plan.
At the end of October, the Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Heath joined dozens of other organizations* to speak out against a new proposal that would eliminate some of the protections and benefits that the Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Act (WI FMLA) provides to employees who are employed by a business that is covered by both the state and federal FMLA’s.
In 1988, Wisconsin became one of the first states to pass a state-level Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Congress followed Wisconsin’s lead and passed a federal FMLA in 1993. Both the state and federal FMLA allow employees who meet certain criteria to take unpaid time off of work if they become ill, have a child, or need to care for a sick family member. This advancement in employment policy has been of great benefit to workers, our communities, and the overall health of our state.
The Wisconsin FMLA and federal FMLA are not identical. In general, the Wisconsin FMLA covers more employees and provides more flexible leave benefits than the federal FMLA. Wisconsin employers who are covered by both the state and federal FMLA must comply with any provisions of the state FMLA law that provide greater family or medical leave rights than the rights established by the federal FMLA and vice versa.
This new bill - SB 490 - is an attempt to “federalize” the Wisconsin FMLA, which would reduce access to family and medical leave and reduce the quality of leave for many Wisconsin workers. If passed, this bill would remove the following protections and benefits that workers who have dual state and federal FMLA eligibility current receive:
Now is not the time to scale back Wisconsinites’ hard-won access to family and medical leave. If anything, Wisconsin should be working to expand job protections to more of its citizens to ensure that they can take time off of work in order to take care of themselves, a sick family member, or a new child. Because this attempt to “federalize” the Wisconsin FMLA would weaken some of the very important protections listed above, Wisconsin state legislators need to oppose Senate Bill 490.
*Organizations that jointly oppose SB 490:
On October 2nd, two new bills were introduced to the Senate concerning fetal tissue donations and the disposition of remains after a stillbirth or miscarriage. These bills are being supported by the “Heal Without Harm Coalition,” which is comprised of groups that largely oppose access to abortion.
The first of these bills is Senate Bill 423, a ban on fetal tissue donations for scientific research if the tissue was acquired after January 1, 2017. The language of the bill prohibits acquiring, providing, receiving, and using fetal body parts regardless of whether or not permission from the family has been provided. Along with a ban on the donation and use of fetal tissue, the bill also proposes a provision that requires all fetal body parts that are obtained as a result of an induced abortion to be entombed, inurned or interned. The responsibility of final disposition would become the responsibility of the facility providing the induced abortion.
Senate Bill 423 would largely impact the scientific community that uses fetal tissue to perform research. Members of the “Heal Without Harm Coalition” that support this proposal include Pro-Life Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, and Wisconsin Right to Life. Groups such as Bio Forward, Medical College of Wisconsin, and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Board have registered against it. Click here to see who has registered for and against the bill.
The second bill in the “Heal Without Harm Coalition” package addresses the disposition of remains resulting from a stillbirth or miscarriage. The bill defines a stillbirth as a spontaneous or accidental death of an unborn child and does not include remains of an unborn child as a result of an induced abortion. The bill proposes several changes to the current Wisconsin system of dealing with remains from a stillbirth or miscarriage. The first change is that the medical facility where the stillbirth or miscarriage occurred would be responsible for the final disposition of the remains. The second change is that the facility must now in all circumstances notify the parents about their ability to obtain a certificate of birth resulting in a stillbirth, regardless of the age or physical development of the fetus. Under current law, a fetus must either meet a minimum weight or age retirement in order to be eligible for a certificate of birth. The bill also adds new informed consent rules that mandate parents be informed that they can choose to donate remains as an anatomical gift for research, organ donation, or other purposes. The facility would be required to provide the parents with informed consent language in writing regardless of gestation period or weight. Finally, the bill calls for a Department of Health Services study to look into the feasibility of a fetal tissue and cord blood bank for use in research.
Senate Bill 424, has not had any groups register against it yet, but several “Heal Without Harm Coalition” groups have registered in favor of it.
During a recent Assembly floor debate on AB 128 - a bill to deny coverage for abortions for state employees - Republican State Representative Scott Allen of Waukesha suggested that women reproduce for the sake of our labor market.
In case you'd like to share your feedback with Rep. Allen, here's some ways to contact him:
Phone (608) 266-8580
October 26, 2017
Dear Acting Secretary Eric Hargan:
Thank you for the opportunity to provide comments on the Department of Health of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Draft Strategic Plan FY 2018-2022. As an organization that advocates for policies that promote the optimal health and security for women and girls in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health (WAWH) strongly opposes any health policies or objectives that will limit women in Wisconsin from accessing critical health care.
It is also imperative that HHS, the nation’s foremost health policy organization, understand and orient all its activities on a foundation firmly centered in science. The HHS Draft Strategic Plan falls far short of this requirement by deviating from accepted science while introducing religious and other non-scientific prohibitions on essential care. HHS should put women’s needs first by working with physicians, the experts on patient care needs, rather than relying on the ideological interests of individuals and groups.
As you further refine the Draft Strategic Plan and as the Department puts this plan into action in the coming years, I urge you to make the following recommended changes that are critical to women’s health:
Ensure women have continued access to preventative primary care service as is provided under the Affordable Care Act.
The HHS strategy does not do enough to ensure that women have access to evidence-based preventive services. Section 2713 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) enabled women to access preventive services with no cost sharing. Since implementation of the law, more than 62 million women now have coverage of women’s preventive services with no cost sharing.
We urge HHS to add “contraception” to the list of preventive services named in the strategy to expand access to healthier living supports, and support access to contraception as a preventive service for all women, regardless of their employer.
Access to contraception reduces unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion, and saves federal dollars. No-copay coverage of contraception has improved the health of women and families and contributed to a dramatic decline in the unplanned pregnancy rate in the United States, including among teens, now at a 30-year low. Women with unplanned pregnancies are more likely to delay prenatal care, and infants are at greater risk of birth defects, low birth weight, and poor mental and physical functioning in early childhood. Increased access to contraception is an American success story, enabling women to reach their professional and educational goals, and improving economic stability for women and their families. HHS should take steps to protect women’s access to all preventive services, including contraception, without cost sharing, regardless of their employer’s beliefs.
Ensure that the HHS Draft Strategic Plan supports policies that are in the best interest of overall women’s health and specifically women’s reproductive health.
We support HHS program and initiatives that serve and protect all individuals across the lifespan. Public health programs and policies must be based on research, evidence, and medical and health-related facts, and must be responsive to individual patient and consumer needs and wishes. However, we note that r
We are concerned that HHS is inserting concepts such as “the unborn” and life “from conception” into its strategic plan. These concepts run contrary to medical and health-related evidence and standards of care, and instead reflect one particular religious point of view that has no role in advancing and protecting the public health of a diverse population. Elevating a fertilized egg to equal status with a person is contrary to U.S. law and establishes a policy framework that would undermine the ability of women and others to make the best decisions for themselves and their families, including decisions impacting their health and wellbeing, and their ability to participate in public life. Such policies will impede the ability of HHS to cultivate and inform best practices for women’s health, and in turn, interfere with the ability of providers, particularly those who offer reproductive health services, to provide quality care to their patients.
In addition, one of the basic functions of government is to ensure the health and well-being of its population. Privileging embryos and fetuses over people threatens the capability of HHS to fulfill this function, and would deprive women of health care benefits that medical and health care experts recognize as critical to ensuring women’s health and wellbeing. Elevating the status of a fetus over the health needs of pregnant women would result in poorer maternal health and poorer birth outcomes. Moreover, adopting policies that give health rights to fetuses would also undermine a woman’s constitutional right to access abortion, and interferes with the patient-provider relationship by limiting the information, counseling, referral and provision of abortion services that a woman can receive, despite the fact that these are part of the standard of care for a range of common medical conditions including heart disease, diabetes, epilepsy, lupus, obesity, and cancer. The language is overly broad, confusing, and subject to misuse and abuse by creating a federal health care framework that invites HHS to refuse to participate in the orderly delivery of evidence-based health care services.
Remove all language that either promotes open-ended deference to religious entities or is unscientific and non-medical language that threaten women’s access to the full spectrum of health care services.
HHS should not prioritize the beliefs of religious and faith-based groups over the health care needs of my patients. The Draft Strategic Plan states that HHS will “promote equal and nondiscriminatory participation by faith-based organizations in HHS-funded or conducted activities,” (Line 361) and HHS will “affirmatively accommodate” burdens imposed on the exercise of religious beliefs and moral “convictions” by persons and entities partnering with HHS (Objective 1.3, Line 368). We urge that you to strike every mention of such language, which invites limitations on health care access based on non-medical religious or moral grounds.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) opposes federal, state and local legislation and regulations, hospital policies, and business decisions that threaten to create restrictive circumstances for patients and clinicians. Prohibitions on essential health care based on religious or non-scientific grounds jeopardize women’s health and safety. Where health care services are legally restricted based on religious or moral grounds, health care providers are required to withhold needed care, risking the health and life of their patients and deeply harming the sanctity of patient-physician relationship. The Draft Strategic Plan’s repeated commitment to accommodating faith-based entities alarmingly signals that HHS is prioritizing opinions and beliefs over scientifically based access and care needs. HHS should put patient care first and strike all language that promotes religious or ideological beliefs over my patients’ right to basic health services.
Along the same lines, as the nation’s health policy center, HHS policy and activities must be firmly based on scientifically valid and appropriate terms and evidence. The Draft Strategic Plan defines an individual’s lifespan from “conception” to “natural death” and identifies the goal of HHS as improving healthcare outcomes “for all people, including the unborn” (Strategic Goal 1, Line 115). “Conception” and “unborn” are lay terms that have no scientific validity and are generally not used in or by the medical community. Find the correct scientific definitions here.
Reliance on unscientific and non-medical terms threatens women’s access to essential reproductive health services, including birth control, assisted reproductive technology (ART), stem cell research, in vitro fertilization, and abortion. WAWH supports patients’ decisions on whether to have children, the number and spacing of their children, and to have the information, education, and access to health services to make these choices. Abortion is a necessary component of women’s health care and HHS should not support politically imposed barriers to abortion access.
As a result of the concerns articulated above regarding the HHS Draft Strategic Plan, we respectfully request that changes are made to this plan. We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on the negative impact this plan would have on Wisconsin women.
Executive Director and Founder
Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health
Take Your Own Action and Submit Comments Now
The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) approved a modified version of the 2017-2019 Wisconsin state budget in early September that was signed into law by the Governor later that month. The $76 billion dollar budget included deep tax cuts for businesses and wealthy Wisconsinites. Lower- to moderate-income Wisconsinites didn’t fare as well under this version of the budget, which attempted to eliminate the Working Family Credit Program, a program that gives a small tax cut to families with lower incomes. Governor Walker has vetoed the elimination of the program, but it will certainly see a major decrease in funding. The JFC also rejected the very modest increase to the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that was proposed by Governor Walker and would have helped thousands of lower-income working families.
The modest change that Governor Walker proposed was to add $20 million dollars to the EITC to counteract the 2011-2013 state budget, which cut the program substantially, leading to a $114 million tax increase for lower-income families over the last four years. The state EITC program provides a mechanism that is designed to help move low-income families out of poverty by incentivizing work with a tax credit that helps boost household income. The way that the state EITC does this is by providing a “refundable” tax credit for workers that have not made enough to pay federal or state income taxes. This tax credit is important for families with children and has also been a particularly important poverty-reduction tool for women, especially women of color.
In addition to the state EITC, there is a federal EITC program which has received surprisingly strong bipartisan support and even has even been increased by Congress in recent years. While this bipartisan support in Congress should serve as an example of how important the EITC is, the Joint Finance Committee opted to reject this modest $20 million increase within a budget of $76 billion.
The question becomes one of priorities. The Joint Finance Committee rejected this plan to provide relief for lower-wage working families while simultaneously cutting taxes for the upper class. The Committee even approved the lowering of the alternative minimum tax and to eventually eliminate it starting in 2019. This alternative minimum tax is an annual tax that ensures those making between $200,000 and $500,000 pay a minimum amount in taxes regardless of how many deductions they have. This could equate to a $7 million dollar tax cut for those in this income bracket.
While some representatives may see these changes as “just cleaning up the tax code,” these are real dollars that impact working families struggling to make ends meet in Wisconsin. The willingness of the Joint Finance Committee to reject a small increase to a program that helps lift people out of poverty in favor of tax breaks for the wealthy is an incredibly disappointing omen for working families in Wisconsin.
After the several failed attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) finally ended in August, those that value access to healthcare celebrated the victory as the end of the Republican plan to strip coverage away from millions of Americans. However, just this last week Senators Lindsey Graham, Bill Cassidy, Dean Heller, and Ron Johnson introduced yet another version of “Trumpcare” that seems to be even worse than those previously rejected. While it may be easy to believe that this new version will also be rejected, it is gaining momentum and needs to be taken seriously by those that believe Americans should have access to quality healthcare.
The new Graham-Cassidy proposal was pitched behind closed doors to the GOP caucus, which means it was another proposal drafted in secret without input from Senate Democrats. The proposal is championed by the idea that by turning over control of health-care markets to the states, the state could develop any system that it wants. Republicans say this includes keeping the ACA if they want. The reality is that the plan cuts funding for the Medicaid expansion and subsidy funding so sharply that it would be zero in a decade. States would not be able to keep the program working as it is with funding being cut so deeply. The result of this would be an estimated loss of coverage for 32 million Americans in the next 10 years.
That huge loss in coverage is only one of the many problems that comes with repealing the ACA with this proposal:
By not including Democrats at any part of this proposal and moving recklessly forward with a partisan effort, the new version of this proposal will eliminate the progress that was made in health reform under the Obama administration and effectively end Medicaid as we know it. It is concerning that once again another proposal is being rushed into the Senate and that instead of moving toward a more bipartisan approach to healthcare, it seems Republicans are moving backwards. We need to stand with these programs that provide support for millions of Americans. The ACA has the opportunity to continue to expand coverage for Americans as it has for 20 million people already. For those who still care about access to healthcare in the U.S., the time for action is now.