NWHN in Action – September/October 2015

Taken from the September/October 2015 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.

Raising Women’s Voices (RWV) for the Health Care We Need

We celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in King v. Burwell, which upheld the constitutionality of subsidies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)…and now we’re working to make sure that all women can get the coverage and services they need.

Our field organizer Cecilia Sáenz Becerra, is working with a number of our RWV Regional Coordinators (RCs) to build the capacity and impact of small, women of color-led organizations in the South and Southwest to advocate for state Medicaid expansion. Through Cecilia’s efforts, three of our Southern RCs were funded to attend a recent Southern Health Partners convening held by Community Catalyst. The event brought together state-based consumer organizations representing the concerns of uninsured, underinsured, and vulnerable populations around Medicaid expansion.

RWV’s Regional Coordinator in Montana (Montana Women Vote) was instrumental in encouraging legislators to expand Medicaid in the state. We’ve also been working with our Louisiana coordinators (Women with a Vision and the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies) on Medicaid expansion, and our Texas coordinator (the Afiya Center) on self-help trainings. Going forward, we will be continuing to collaborate with coordinators in states with large concentrations of women and/or LGBTQ people who lack adequate insurance coverage because policymakers have not expanded Medicaid.

Keep up with the latest from RWV by visiting: www.raisingwomensvoices.net

Securing Sexual & Reproductive Health and Autonomy

For the past few years, the NWHN has been an active member of the National Female Condom Coalition (NFCC), which is working to down-classify the female condom. Currently, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies female condoms as “Class III medical devices;” these are devices used to sustain or support life, that are implanted, or have the potential for an unreasonable risk of illness or injury. (Pacemakers and hip replacements are other examples of Class III devices). We think this classification is too strict (male condoms are class II devices) and hampers people’s ability to access and use the female condom. So, we were delighted when the FDA responded to our input and decided to review the female condom’s classification criteria. We applaud this move, and are working with the sexual and reproductive community to advocate for more-appropriate regulation of female condoms.

You may have heard about efforts to make birth control pills available over-the-counter (OTC). We have mixed feelings about the idea. We think that conservative Members of Congress are pushing the idea in order to allow employers to circumvent the ACA’s requirement that health plans cover contraceptives without any additional fees. Moving the Pill OTC would actually cost many women more, because insurance usually only covers prescriptions, not OTC products. Any effort to make the Pill available OTC must include strategies to ensure that access is not reduced in the process.

Challenging Dangerous Drugs & Devices

Women’s Health Activist readers know the NWHN opposes approval of flibansterin — a drug designed to treat “female sexual dysfunction” that has minimal benefits and significant safety problems. The NWHN has repeatedly testified before the FDA in opposition to the drug’s approval without more safety studies, and worked to educate Congress about its safety risks. Unfortunately, the FDA’s advisory committee recently voted to approve flibansterin. We’re disappointed and are working with our allies on additional FDA-focused advocacy. In the meantime, we’ve received a significant amount of press coverage about our views, which we hope will get the message across to women that this drug isn’t good news for women. (See Cindy Pearson’s op ed in the June 8, 2015 Washington Post!)

We are working to ensure women have complete and accurate information about the health risks of Essure, a non-surgical sterilization device, in the face of complaints brought by consumers who claim to have experienced harms from the product. We are working with consumer advocates to ask the FDA to review the device’s safety and effectiveness profile at an upcoming FDA Advisory Panel meeting in September.

We are fighting the “21st Century Cures” bill, which was heavily influenced by pharmaceutical lobbyists and undermines the strict standards used by the FDA to approve drugs and devices in the U.S. We are meeting with Congressional staffers to educate them about the importance of maintaining strict standards around product safety. We also signed onto a coalition letter to FDA officials outlining our support for continued protections for consumers and families.