NWHN in Action – March/April 2018

Taken from the March/April 2018 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.

Raising Women’s Voices (RWV)

In December, congressional Republicans passed a deficit-busting tax giveaway for corporations and the ultra-wealthy that was funded, in part, by making health insurance unaffordable for millions of families. By repealing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate to buy health insurance, the bill will trigger spikes in 2019 premiums; 13 million people could lose their insurance as a result, including millions who would have qualified for financial help from the government.

After months of trying to repeal the ACA legislatively and sabotage it administratively, it’s no surprise that Republicans gloated that the tax bill takes “the heart out of Obamacare.” And it will do damage. Combined with proposed regulatory changes to make “junk” health plans more attractive to healthy people and ongoing efforts to weaken consumer protections, real people will suffer.

But while it’s easy to despair, Republicans have not eviscerated the ACA. Whether it’s killing Trumpcare proposals to gut low- and middle-income families’ subsidies; defending the Medicaid expansion; or protecting traditional Medicaid’s coverage guarantees for 75 million low-income children, pregnant women, seniors, and disabled people, the NWHN has been on the frontlines defending health care. Our 30 state and local regional coordinators (RCs) in 28 states participated in town halls, marches, phone banks, social media campaigns, and constituent meetings with elected officials. And in Maine, our coordinator Maine Consumers for Affordable Health Care, helped lead the fight on a first-of-its-kind ballot initiative successfully expanding Medicaid.

We also fought for a long-term reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which funds health insurance for 9 million kids. In December, Republicans chose to prioritize tax cuts for billionaires over health care for kids, passing a short-term patch to keep CHIP funded for a few months. Along with our RCs, we kept up the pressure on moderate Republicans to pass a long-term reauthorization that provides certainty to children and their families.

Finally, you might have seen us at the Women’s Convention in Detroit last fall when Regional Field Manager Kalena Murphy represented RWV—along with our partners at the Black Women’s Health Imperative—distributing information in English and Spanish on open enrollment as resistance. In 2017, the Trump administration halved the open enrollment period, scheduled “website maintenance” for healthcare.gov when it would be most disruptive to shoppers, and slashed outreach assistance by millions of dollars. But our RCs worked hard to get the word out and final enrollment numbers far exceeded expectations, defying Trump’s sabotage.

Challenging Dangerous Drugs and Devices (CDDD)

With NWHN’s new policy fellow, Eliana Kosova, in place, we’ve been fighting Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) attempts to roll back consumer protections in favor of lower drug prices. We called out FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb for planning to modify the FDA’s regulatory process so pharmaceutical companies can get drugs approved more rapidly. Gottlieb’s “competitive marketplace model” fails to address skyrocketing drug prices’ root causes, and exposes consumers to drugs that were rushed to market without proper approval. We must lower drug prices, but we must never lower our standards.

We’ve also been busy calling attention to Alex Azar, the Big Pharma executive recently confirmed to head the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) after Secretary Tom Price’s scandal-plagued tenure. Executive Director Cindy Pearson challenged the GOP narrative that Azar’s business experience qualifies him to run HHS, stating: “Knowing how the pharmaceutical industry develops drugs and manages a company may be the sign of a good business person, but it is not a sign of a person who understands how to make good decisions about public health and invest in what people need.”

During Azar’s time in the Bush Administration, he supervised the part of the government investigating Eli Lilly for criminal activity. (Lilly illegally marketed its psychiatric drug to nursing homes and assisted living facilities for uses the FDA never approved.) Cindy noted, “Then, in 2007, he jumped ship to go work for them. Eli Lilly eventually pleaded guilty to wrongdoing but their fine was just a tiny fraction of the profits they’d made. Azar is a perfect case study in what happens when the people in charge of protecting public health care more about industry profits.”

Securing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Autonomy (SRH)

We’ve played a critical role in fighting the administration’s attempts to undermine the ACA’s contraceptive coverage requirement. Under rules released in October, employers can deny contraceptive coverage for almost any reason—or no reason at all. We spoke out against the rule, and kept the heat on employers to maintain coverage. We’ve had some notable victories: after Notre Dame became the first major employer to announce it was rescinding coverage for female employees, students, and dependents, public outcry forced it to reverse course.

We’re also working to change conversations around long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) like IUDs and implants. We strongly support development of, and access to, the full range of safe and effective contraceptives, and advocate for the elimination of barriers to LARCs. But, we’re also deeply concerned that institutional enthusiasm for LARCs threatens individual women’s ability to choose the best methods for their unique circumstances.

Building on our multi-year partnership with SisterSong, we’re teaching the principles of non-coercive contraceptive access to stakeholders nationwide. We’ve also been active in framing the information given to clinicians about newly-approved metrics for gauging LARC access. If abused, the new measures could become de facto quotas; used correctly, they could help public health advocates identify and address barriers to access.

Sarah Christopherson, MA, is the Legislative Director for the social justice campaign, Americans for Tax Fairness, and the NWHN’s former Policy Advocacy Director. Her 10 years working for Congress and her deep knowledge of health policy and consumer protection make her the NWHN’s issue area expert on federal health reform implementation and defense, drug and device safety and efficacy, and sexual and reproductive health.

Read more from Sarah Christopherson.