Tomorrow marks an important day for millions of Americans: the beginning of the open enrollment period for the Federal Marketplace. Thanks to the last open enrollment period, millions of Americans who were previously uninsured now have insurance, and this open enrollment period has the potential to help millions more gain insurance. Last week, I wrote about the ways in which congregations and individuals can take action in order to make the open enrollment period a success. Now, with open enrollment less than 24 hours away, here are some resources about health insurance and the marketplace:
With the Election Day results in, the door is now open for serious threats to reproductive rights and health in the Volunteer State. Voters approved Amendment One by a margin of 53-47%, erasing language in the state constitution that defines abortion as a fundamental right. The state legislature now has the authority to “enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.”
Though the Amendment does not immediately change any abortion laws in Tennessee, lawmakers have already announced their intention to advance abortion restrictions when the legislative session begins in January. These could include dangerous and restrictive policies like the building regulations and physician admitting privileges in Texas (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider laws, known as TRAP laws), the mandatory 72-hour waiting period in Missouri, or the 20-week bans that limit abortion access in nine states. And, as Amendment One dictates, the legislature would not be required to include exceptions for cases of rape, incest, or where the mother’s life is in danger. Read more…
Earlier today, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) issued two new items of guidance regarding the Ebola crisis in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. The first guidance offers special relief for leave-based donation programs to aid Ebola victims in the aforementioned countries. The other guidance names the Ebola outbreak in these West African countries a “qualified disaster” for federal tax purposes.
The leave-based donation guidance would allow employees to donate their paid vacation, sick or personal leave and employers will make cash payments to tax-exempt organizations that are providing relief for the victims of Ebola in Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone. This program will allow for employer cash payments until January 1, 2016. For this period, the donated leave will not be included in the sum of income or wages of the employees. Furthermore, employers will be able to deduct the amount of the cash payment, also a boon for them.
In 12 days, the open enrollment period will begin for the federal Health Insurance Marketplace. Last year, over 8 million people enrolled in the Health Insurance Marketplace. While those 8 million people had 6 months to enroll last year in the Health Insurance Marketplace, Americans this year will only have 3 months, until February 15, to enroll. In addition, most individuals without insurance who were easy to target for enrollment already enrolled during the last open enrollment period, making it more difficult to enroll the same number of people this year. On top of that, a recent survey showed that nine in ten of the uninsured do not know that open enrollment begins on November 15 and 66% of the uninsured know little or nothing about the health insurance marketplace. These statistics illustrate the importance of educating Americans about the open enrollment period and the opportunities available to help the uninsured.
It is no secret that Americans are freaking out about Ebola. According to a Washington Post poll from last week, two-thirds of Americans are suffering from “Fear-bola,” a hyper-contagious “disease” that affects the brain, making sufferers fear a widespread Ebola outbreak in the United States. In response, a number of news sources, like Vox, have worked to convey how minor the risk of outbreak is to everyday Americans. However, the disease has claimed over 4,800 lives and is still a significant and dangerous threat in many countries in West Africa. Estimates of the future impact of Ebola in the region are frightening, and the virus is also compounding other existing global health concerns, like malaria. Furthermore, Ebola not only kills many who are afflicted by the disease, but is also afflicting the economy in many West African countries which pushes these countries further behind economically. Read more…
Turning on the news, it seems like all that anyone is talking about these days is the Ebola virus. From the news, to our offices, to our conversations amongst friends, we’ve been hearing every day about what symptoms to look for, how to safeguard against it, and how far it might spread. One American man has already died in Dallas, and two are in treatment in Atlanta and Bethesda. To be sure, it’s a deadly, scary disease, and our world community should be treating this outbreak with extreme caution.
Amidst the fear of an outbreak in America, we’ve been hearing from some news commentators that we need to introduce a travel ban for West Africa; denying visas to anyone traveling from West Africa. This idea has made its way from media circles to popular sentiment, as now two-thirds of Americans support denying entry to people traveling from the affected countries. Given this popularity, the travel ban has now become an easy way for politicians to score points with voters. Both the Republican and Democratic Senate candidates in the hotly-contested races of North Carolina and New Hampshire now favor a travel ban as a way of preventing contact between West Africa to America. Read more…
Last year, Angelina Jolie made national news after revealing that she had undergone a preventive double mastectomy because she had a BRCA1 gene mutation which dramatically increased her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Last week, Myriad Genetics, Inc., a company well known for its breakthrough research showing the connection between BRCA gene mutations and an increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer, was at the Federal Circuit defending some of its patents related to the BRCA genes. BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes produce proteins which suppress tumors, and consequently people with BRCA mutations are at a greater risk for certain cancers. This case is especially important to Ashkenazi Jews because Jews of Ashkenazi descent are more likely to have harmful BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations than the general public.
Ebola is not the only important health-related news from Texas this week. Thursday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that all but seven facilities that provide abortion services must close immediately, leaving 900,000 women more than 150 miles from the nearest clinic. The Circuit Court overturned a lower court ruling that sought to strike down the provision requiring all reproductive health care facilities to abide by the building requirements of an ambulatory surgical center (ASC), a category of facilities that provide vastly different services than reproductive health clinics. Now clinics must either stop providing abortion services or undergo significant renovations, the later proving effectively impossible due to cost. The Fifth Circuit’s decision remains final unless advocates appeal to the Supreme Court.
In yesterday’s decision, Judge Jennifer Elrod opined, “In our circuit, we do not balance the wisdom or effectiveness of a law against the burdens the law imposes,” an assertion that blatantly contradicts the established undue burden standard for reviewing abortion rights cases. Even Texas, with its severely restrictive reproductive rights laws, recognizes in some form the importance of the undue burden standard; state law that requires a woman to see a providing physician at least 24 hours before an abortion procedure exempts women who live more than 100 miles from their nearest clinic, acknowledging that traveling that distance twice or making an overnight stay near the clinic imposes an undue burden on a woman’s right to access reproductive health care. It is deeply unsettling, then, to see that Texas does not recognize that the ASC provision imposes an undue burden on 900,000 of its residents, and that the Fifth Circuit Court has upheld that burden.
As Reform Jews, we believe firmly in not only a woman’s right to choose, but also the need to ensure that abortions are safe, legal, affordable and accessible for all women. Our tradition teaches that all life is sacred, but that the life and health of the mother are the principle concerns; a law that leaves open seven clinics in a state with 5.4 million women of reproductive age demonstrates a clear disregard for women’s health and well-being.