Republicans Pass Extreme Policies While Denying Health Care Coverage
MADISON – Statement from Sara Finger, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health (WAWH):
“Women across our state are fed up with and appalled at how women’s health is being used as a political game piece. It is a grave act of misogyny that a body of mainly white male legislators believe they are entitled to dictate a woman’s personal healthcare decisions to score political points.
Today during National Women’s Health Week, Assembly Republicans showcased their true priorities by passing a batch of anti-abortion bills along party lines. Rather than focus on real policy solutions like full Medicaid expansion that would advance women’s health in Wisconsin, GOP leaders fast tracked a series of politically motivated bills that threaten women’s wellbeing, patient-physician relationships and health care delivery in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Republicans are far too eager to pull pages from conservative playbooks to advance an all –out assault on abortion access. As seen in Georgia and Alabama, Wisconsin’s GOP majority is shoring up support from their extreme base for next year’s critical election year with these inflammatory and irresponsible policies.
The timing of the Republican push for these bills is transparent. With recent polling demonstrating extremely high support for the Governor’s proposal to expand Medicaid Wisconsin, GOP leaders rush a floor vote on these bills to distract from last Thursday’s Joint Finance Committee party-line vote to remove Medicaid expansion and other good policy items from the budget.
Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health strongly supports a woman’s right to make their own health decisions. We will continue to work to ensure all women have access to healthcare and access to medically accurate information. We will continue to track votes, and advocate on women’s health to ensure legislators are held accountable by their constituents.”
WAWH's Press Release in response to committee hearings on 5 anti-abortion bills:
MADISON – Just as the Republican controlled Joint Finance Committee (JFC) is getting ready to make some very unpopular decisions related proposals made in Governor Evers budget, the Republican controlled legislative committees rush to hold hearings on four politically motivated bills on abortion in attempt to draw some attention away.
“These bills represent a thinly veiled effort by Republican state legislators to advance their anti-abortion agenda under the guise of protecting women’s health and anti-discrimination legislation,” notes Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health Executive Director Sara Finger. “Sadly their obsession with interfering with the patient-physician relationship, pushing inflammatory rhetoric, and threatening women’s health is nothing new in our state.”
Today, four separate Republican led committees are dedicating hearings to amplify their extreme agenda. Even knowing that Governor Evers has vowed to veto these and other dangerous bills, committee chairs are choosing to expend significant time and energy to score political points with their base.
As healthcare proposals in Governor Evers’ Budget continue to gain momentum and popularity, these hearings are being strategically scheduled to draw attention away from Medicaid Expansion which seventy percent of Wisconsinites support.
“It’s no coincidence that these bills are getting hearings at the same time as GOP JFC members are declaring war on the Governor’s Budget,” adds Finger. “But try as they may to distract us, we are focused on advocating for policies and programs in the budget that can make a powerful and positive difference in the health, lives and economic security of Wisconsin women and their families.”
With the Joint Finance Committee scheduled for a critical conversation this Thursday, the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health and many of our partner organizations and health care allies are applying pressure to decision makers to maintain the Governor’s proposals around health care, transportation, public education, mental health, infant mortality and economic security for all Wisconsinites.
“If our leaders truly want to improve the health of moms and babies in this state, we expect them to fully support the Healthy Women Healthy Babies initiative and to fully Expand Medicaid,” Finger added. “Wisconsinites deserve real solutions and real opportunities to improve their health and lives.”
Did you know that our of 131 current state legislators, only 3 of them have a health care background?
On April 10th Republican legislators released a package of 4 bad bills* aimed at chipping away at a woman’s access to abortion in Wisconsin. These bills represent a thinly veiled effort by Republican state legislators to advance their anti-abortion agenda under the guise of protecting women’s health and anti-discrimination legislation.
It’s no surprise that Republican leaders chose to release these bills now in an attempt to distract from the proactive healthcare proposals in Governor Evers’ Budget gaining momentum and popularity. The latest Marquette Law School poll, (released on the same day as the four bad bills) found that 70% of voters believe our state should accept federal funds and expand Medicaid. Support is also growing for Governor Evers’ Healthy Women Healthy Babies initiative in the budget, which invests in programs that support healthier pregnancies and births to address our state’s infant mortality and black healthcare disparities. If the goal is to take attention away from popular policies led by those on the other side of the aisle, it makes perfect sense that GOP leaders are desperate to change the conversation and refocus the public’s attention.
It’s important to note that the communities these 4 bad bills directly affect, have not asked for these bills to be crafted or advanced. On the contrary, these advocacy groups are actively engaged in the budget process and are focused on lifting up evidence-based proposals in Governor Evers’ budget around transportation, education, social supports and healthcare access.
Because our vision is that every Wisconsin woman - at every age and every stage of life - is able to reach her optimal health, safety and economic security, we will continue to fight to advance the evidence-based policies that can improve the well-being of women and families. We will never shy away from calling out the political games GOP leaders continue to play at the expense of the health and well-being of Wisconsin women.
*AB 179, AB 180, AB 181, AB 182, AB 183
While we defeated the ACA repeal efforts in Congress, the Trump administration continues its efforts to sabotage the ACA through new regulations. Moreover, a lawsuit working its way through the courts is threatening to overturn the entire ACA, or invalidate its protections for people with pre-existing conditions. As "Obamacare" continues to be threatened by Republican lawmakers at both the state and federal levels, we must continue to raise awareness of how Wisconsin women have won with the ACA and fight back attempts to reverse the advancements made to women's health over the past nine years.
Our Policy Team has made their way through the nearly 600 page documents and here is out top 5 list:
BadgerCare Expansion: Governor Walker and the Republicans callously rejected federal funds available to Wisconsin under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This budget expands BadgerCare to cover an additional 83,000 Wisconsinites while saving taxpayers $834 million over the next 6 years. Because low-income, uninsured women and more likely to forego healthcare and preventative services because of costs, this is a necessity for Women in Wisconsin.
Healthy Women, Healthy Babies Initiative: Wisconsin’s infant mortality rates for African-American babies are the highest in the nation. This budget includes a $28 million investment to support healthier pregnancies and births, including funds to pilot a Medicaid doula reimbursement program.
Focus on Childcare: Finding affordable, quality child care is one of the biggest hurdles for getting and keeping a job. This is particularly true for women as primary care givers. Child care subsidies will have increase to $376.9 million and focuses on investment in economically disadvantaged areas.
Repeal of harmful hurdles: This budget fixes some serious abuses of power that Walker and the Republicans jammed in the lame duck session. This budget restores the ability of our Attorney General to settle cases and eliminates the legislatures ability to intervene in lawsuits.
Local Preemption Repeal: This budget repeals the prohibition that prevents local government from passing paid family leave and other local initiatives. While we strongly believe paid family leave should be a statewide initiative, this repeal would allow local governments to lead the way until our legislature is willing to enact real change for all Wisconsin workers and families.
WAWH will be advocating for these and other important budget items that align with our vision: Every Wisconsin woman - at every age and every stage of life - is able to reach her optimal health, safety and economic security. These items must not be taken out of the budget.
What can you do?
Governor Evers Budget Prioritizes Real People Living Real Lives
Statement from Sara Finger, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health (WAWH):
“Last night, attending Governor’s Evers budget address with my 9-year-old daughter, I felt so proud to share with her such a kind and strong message of respect for the needs of real people. We have a Governor listening to what people need and tackling the tough issues long neglected.
“Governor Evers’ plan to expand BadgerCare is one of the most cost-effective ways our state can help families. There are people in every corner of our state that don’t have access to affordable healthcare. Governor Walker and the Republican-led legislature played a callous political game when they refused federal funds available under the ACA to expand BadgerCare. Governor Evers is providing a path where an estimated 83,000 Wisconsinites would gain access to health insurance coverage under BadgerCare.
“From doula reimbursement to infant mortality prevention to revitalizing the well woman program, this is a budget to be excited about. The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health supports Governor Evers strong measures that shift the state focus to proactive solutions to improve the lives of women and girls in Wisconsin”.
Today, the Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health released this statement in response to the Trump-Pence administration issuing a Title X gag rule. This rule would ban health care providers receiving Title X family planning funds from providing patients with all pregnancy counseling options or referrals for abortion care. This latest attack is strongly opposed by the medical community. This rule will take effect in 60 days if unchallenged.
“The Trump-Pence Title X Gag rule requires healthcare professionals to censure what medically accurate medical information women are allowed to receive during their visit. The last thing women need is for President Trump to play doctor and decide what information they are or are not entitled to hear at their visits.
“This is another patriarchal political stunt by the Trump-Pence administration that takes medical decision-making power away from women. This administration is playing a dangerous game with women’s health to satisfy their dwindling base.
“Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health strongly supports a woman’s right to make their own health decisions. We will continue to work to ensure all women have access to healthcare and access to medically accurate information. We vehemently oppose the Trump-Pence Title X Gag rule.”
MADISON – Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health (WAWH) Executive Director, Sara Finger, released the following statement on February 7, 2019:
“Recently, and especially in the past 48 hours, we have witnessed a malicious disinformation campaign, advanced by anti-abortion activists who seek to make abortion illegal and stigmatize women and doctors. President Trump parroted blatant falsities about abortion care during his State of the Union address, using inflammatory language to score needed political points. Yesterday we saw Rep. Robin Vos and Assembly Republicans follow suit by staging a press conference in Madison to make their own inflammatory claims that are flat out false and offensive to women who face pregnancy complications. It’s important to remember that the people spreading this misinformation have one motive in mind -- to ban safe, legal abortion in this country.”
“While I don’t appreciate the artifice that was behind yesterday’s media stunt, I welcome this opportunity to talk reproductive rights and abortion laws in Wisconsin. Here in Wisconsin we have an archaic 1849 law on the books that criminalizes abortions. The U.S. Supreme Court is now controlled by an anti-abortion majority following the appointment of Justice Kavanaugh and the future of Roe v. Wade is uncertain. If Roe is overturned, then our 1800’s law kicks in, abortion becomes illegal in Wisconsin and doctors in Wisconsin could face jail time.”
“The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health strongly supports a woman’s right to make her own health decisions. We will continue to work to ensure all women have access to healthcare and access to medically accurate information. We all deserve the rights, freedoms, and opportunities to control our lives at the most basic level: our bodies, our families, and our futures--and that requires the right and ability to have an abortion. It is disrespectful and dangerous that a body of mainly white male legislators without healthcare backgrounds believes they are entitled to dictate a woman’s personal healthcare decisions to score political points. Anti-abortion zealots will do anything to push their agenda to ban safe, legal abortion in this country — including making things up and making outlandish accusations that are not based in fact or medical science. These claims are horrifying and offensive.”
Nonpartisan Report on Opioid Prevention & Treatment Includes Important Policy Recommendations for Pregnant Women
Last summer, the Pew Charitable Trust released a comprehensive report that analyzed Wisconsin’s existing substance use disorder (SUD) treatment systems and public policy landscape. The report includes 25 policy recommendations, several of which pertain to providing SUD treatment to pregnant and postpartum women.
Most importantly, the report acknowledges the barriers to pregnant women seeking treatment in Wisconsin that are posed by Wisconsin’s Act 292, which was passed into law in over 20 years ago and is commonly referred to as the “Cocaine Mom” law. This law gives the state almost unprecedented power over pregnant women who use or have admitted to past use of any amount of alcohol or a controlled substance. There is widespread agreement among medical professionals and advocates that the law deprives pregnant women of basic rights and ultimately undermines maternal, fetal, and child health.
Before getting into the specifics of the Pew report, some details about the specific provisions of Act are needed to provide context for why the law serves as a barrier to pregnant women accessing the medical care they need. An excerpt from and article written by WAWH Executive Director, Sara Finger, outlines the most relevant provision:
Under this law, pregnant women who are thought to use alcohol or drugs may be subjected to forced treatment without any proof that it is safe or even helpful for the pregnant woman or her future child. It gets worse. If the woman refuses the forced treatment, a court can then hold her in contempt and incarcerate her in a county jail, where she is likely to be denied access to pretty much everything recommended for pregnant women including healthy foods, and access to prenatal and other health care. The state can also begin proceedings to terminate her parental rights before she even gives birth. And while the state appoints a lawyer to represent fetuses at all stages of such proceedings, the woman has no right to counsel at important preliminary hearings where her rights are at stake.
In 2017, a federal district court initially struck down Act 292 on constitutional grounds, but the case was eventually dismissed by a federal appellate court because the plaintiff eventually left the state.
While the Pew report does not explicitly call for the full repeal of Act 292, it does state that clinicians and patients “report that this policy serves as a barrier to SUD treatment for pregnant women by potentially discouraging individuals from seeking SUD treatment for fear of repercussions” and that “[t]his barrier potentially puts pregnant women and their child at greater risk of harm than they would be if this policy did not exist.”
Pew does generally suggest that the Legislature make changes to state law to make it easier for pregnant women to “seek and receive evidence-based treatment,” which can certainly be interpreted to mean making changes to Act 292. The report says that state agencies work to address misunderstandings about Act 292 among clinicians, social service agencies, and law enforcement. Finally, Pew recommends that the Department of Health Services issue guidelines for health care providers that receive any type of public funding to align with best practices regarding the education, screening, and treatment of childbearing age women regarding SUD’s.
In addition to recommendations regarding prevention and treatment for pregnant women, the report suggests several policy changes to improve SUD care for postpartum women, including:
If you’re interested in learning more about the background of Pew’s Substance Use Disorder Treatment Policy Recommendations for the State of Wisconsin, you can view the full report here.
Prior to the passage of the ACA, insurance companies were allowed to discriminate against women due to our unique health needs. Insurers could deny coverage to women if they had been pregnant, had fought and survived cancer, or even if they had suffered domestic violence. In many cases, health plans didn’t even cover maternity care.
If the ACA is overturned, then women could be denied coverage based on their medical history, their age, and their occupation, among other factors. As a result, women could be charged more, or priced out of the insurance market altogether. Insurance companies could also try to reinstate gender rating, a common pre-ACA practice in which insurance companies charged women higher premiums than they did men, even though other parts of the ACA protect women from discrimination in the health care system.
The gravity of what the loss of coverage for women and girls would look like, should ACA be repealed, makes it paramount that we speak out against our state legislature supporting anything that could lead to reduced coverage. That's why this week, we weighed in on a GOP authored bill - Assembly Bill 1 - that claims to addresses coverage of preexisting medical conditions in our state.
It's important to note that under the direction of former Governor Scott Walker, Wisconsin joined this multi-state lawsuit to overturn the ACA. In December, a Texas District Court judge held that the ACA is unconstitutional in Texas v. Azar. As this case makes its way through the appeals process, the ACA remains the law of the land.
Despite Wisconsin’s voters speaking out loud and clear in November by electing state-wide officials who campaigned on a promise to withdraw Wisconsin from the ACA lawsuit, the Republican-led Legislature rejected the outcome of the November elections and voted to force the state to remain as plaintiffs in Texas v. Azar, threatening coverage for many Wisconsinites.
And with recent actions and actions taken over the past eight years to sabotage the ACA while the GOP has held a super majority in our state, now the Republican controlled legislature is attempting to show interest in protecting coverage for Wisconsinites.
Unfortunately, their proposal, AB1, does not guarantee insurance for people with preexisting conditions in the same capacity as the ACA, nor does it address other very important issues of coverage -- including essential health benefit mandates such as maternal care. AB 1 does not address lifetime coverage limits, preventative care, consumer protections, or bar discrimination based on gender. During the Assembly Committee on Health’s January 15, 2019 hearing, the bill authors testimony made it clear that they were not interested in expanding the scope of AB1 to include expanded coverage. Without the broader protections and subsidies of the ACA, AB1 does not protect enough people—and could actually lead to harmful unintended consequences, including higher costs.
Northern District of Texas Judge Reed O'Connor's December ruling didn't just put protections for preexisting conditions at risk, it attempts to throw out the entire law, including the subsidies that help Wisconsinites afford coverage. AB1 would not close the gap in coverage that will open up should ACA be repealed through the courts.
Our state legislative leaders are in a unique position to work to ensure that Wisconsinites continue to be covered and protected in an affordable and comprehensive manner. Rather than enact this inferior talking-point bill, the Assembly should instead focus on withdrawing Wisconsin from the lawsuit and join the numerous attorney generals seeking to uphold the ACA's framework. Such action would allow the Assembly to proudly take ownership for protecting coverage for Wisconsinites and would have the full support of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health. AB1 is no substitute for the ACA.
Cecely Castillo, Policy Director