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Five Health Care Issues You May Have Missed as ACA Open Enrollment Begins

Here are some policy shakeups you should know about while recovering from the fight over Obamacare.

by Katelyn Harrop
Nov 2 2017, 4:45pm

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Today marks day two of 45 for open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, and if you haven't heard, it isn't your fault. The Trump administration has rolled back virtually all funding for open enrollment promotion, and taken a serious chunk of the budget for public outreach as well.

These systematic rollbacks, chipping away at Obamacare, follow a tough summer for the GOP as they tried, and failed, to repeal the ACA in multiple forms. Things really kicked into action in the early hours of July 28, when GOP Senators narrowly failed to pass a slimmed down ACA repeal, sending the party back to the drawing board.

But while senators were voting "yay" or "nay," scrapping plans, and eventually returning to square one, a handful of lawmakers were keeping their eye on the special interest prize, passing and proposing legislation to address specific health and healthcare concerns.

Here are five health policy moves you probably missed while recovering from the federal health care crisis.

1. One state passed what advocates are calling the nation's most progressive reproductive rights law, while two other states passed bills to scale back reproductive care in a big way.

Oregon's Governor Kate Brown successfully passed a statewide bill that will require insurance providers to cover reproductive health services including abortion, regardless of income level, gender identity, type of coverage, or citizenship status.This bill comes in the wake of federal moves to scale-back policies covering birth control and other reproductive health services mandated under Obamacare.

But while Oregonians are saying "goodbye" to co-pays on birth control and other family planning services while saying "hello" to new state funding to support reproductive health care for non-citizens, women in Arkansas and Texas are looking at increased hurdles to reproductive health access.

A new law in Texas pumps the brakes on state and private insurer's ability to cover abortion except when the mother's life is in danger. Some reproductive rights advocates have dubbed the law "rape insurance," since it requires women to anticipate their needs by pre-purchasing supplemental coverage.

While Oregonians are saying "goodbye" to co-pays on birth control and other family planning services while saying "hello" to new state funding to support reproductive health care for non-citizens, women in Arkansas and Texas are looking at increased hurdles to reproductive health access.

A few states over, a Federal Appeal Court judge ruled in favor of Arkansas' right to block medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood. The case dates back to that controversial video leak from 2015, in which Planned Parenthood employees purportedly discussing fetal tissue sales. Despite concerns, reports from the Associate Press note that none of the more than $50,000 set aside for Planned Parenthood under Medicaid in the state paid for abortion services. Shifty evidence, meet budget cuts.

2. The Senate approved the first federal "Right-To-Try" bill.

Passing just a few days after the Republican "skinny repeal" met its maker, this senate bill would allow seriously ill patients to access experimental drugs without a formal okay from the Food and Drug Administration.

This federal bill differs from many state-level "right-to-try" bills in that it would allow a range of severely ill patients to access medication that had only gone through preliminary human testing phases, as long as the drug continues to be be researched under the guidance of the FDA. The bill also provides some legal protection to pharmaceutical companies if the experimental treatment resulted in harm.

The bill was passed as part of a deal between Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who had threatened to hold up an FDA funding reauthorization bill if his legislation didn't go to a vote. Politics, politics, politics.

3. Senate Democrats also asked the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes nationwide.

Citing the cigarettes popularity with younger populations, Senate Democrats have filed a petition with the FDA, asking the agency to pull the plug on menthol. Senators noted a 2011 Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee report holding menthol cigarettes responsible for the potential smoking addiction of nine million people over a 40-year period, as well as 200,000 deaths.

"As senators committed to the FDA's mission to protect public health, we believe it is time for the FDA to act on the substantial scientific data and use the authority provided by the Tobacco Control Act to remove menthol cigarettes from the marketplace," reads the letter of petition.

Senators including Ed Markey, Patty Murray, and Elizabeth Warren have asked the FDA to respond to their petition by September 18.

4. President Trump abruptly cut a federal grant program targeted at preventing teen pregnancy.

81 organizations got a rude awakening as the department of Health and Human Services decided to cut out funding for five-year grant programs targeted at combating teen pregnancy two years before the grants are set to expire.

The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, which was started by the Obama administration in 2010, will see a $200 million cut over two years. The HHS says the program, which has funded initiatives in 39 states, has had little demonstrated impact, and also lacks funding under Trump's proposed budget.

81 organizations got a rude awakening as the department of Health and Human Services decided to cut out funding for five-year grant programs targeted at combatting teen pregnancy two years before the grants are set to expire.

Public health advocates including Big Cities Health Coalition, a group comprised of health officials from major U.S. cities, have voiced serious concerns over this sudden program cut.
"Cutting TPPP funding and shortening the project period will not only reverse historic gains made in the U.S. in reducing teen pregnancy rates, but also make it difficult to truly understand what practices are most effective in our communities across the nation," wrote Big Cities Health Coalition in a letter to HHS secretary Tom Price. "We are extremely concerned about the impact this change will have on U.S. teen pregnancy rates and urge you to reconsider the decision to cut the funds and to shorten the project period."

5. New York got serious about this whole Lymes disease issue.

Thanks to an insanely mild winter and sudden temperature spikes this summer, the Northeast is feeling the toll of tick-borne illnesses in a big way. That's why New York senators Sue Serino and Kemp Hannon have announced plans for a series of hearings to find out what the state can do to fight Lymes disease, Powassan virus, and other tick-borne diseases that have been on the upswing in recent years.

This comes after New York passed two laws focused on providing insurance assistance to people diagnosed with Lyme disease, and support educational efforts around tick-borne illness prevention. New York rep. John Katko has also proposed a house bill to develop the Tick Identification Pilot Program Act of 2017, focused on addressing gaps in tick-borne illness education in highly affected states.

Are lawmakers keeping your health interests in mind this policy season? Websites like govtrack make it easy to keep tabs on state and federal health care bills, and contacting your local representatives is always the best way to make sure your interests are kept in mind during major policy votes.

The best way to fight federal attempts to sabotage open enrollment is to find out if you qualify for coverage, and enroll if you do . Then, it's all about getting the word out about open enrollment to your friends and family. Get America Covered makes this easy , with sharable social graphics, easy to understand fact sheets, and an email list serve.

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