Following a recent vote by the Department of Health and Human Services panel, which recommended that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reverse its policy banning men who have had sex with men (MSM) from donating blood, the FDA announced yesterday that it will be replacing its current indefinite deferral policy with a policy that allows MSM to give blood if they have not had sex with another man in the past year. While this change will allow some MSM who were ineligible to donate blood in the past to donate blood, this new policy still raises questions about judicious, equal treatment for MSM in this particular situation.
Today marks World AIDS Day, a day devoted to raising awareness of the AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) epidemic. Despite many advances in the treatment for AIDS since the AIDS epidemic first began in the 1980s and increased knowledge on how to prevent the spread of HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus), 1.5 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2013 alone.
And, AIDS continues to be a serious issue around the world. Jewish tradition emphasizes the importance of bikur cholim, pikuach nefesh and gemulit chasidim—caring for the sick, saving lives and deeds of loving kindness—and these are the values that spur us to take action to educate others about HIV/AIDS in order to empower them to take control of their own health and advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention.
Jewish tradition emphasizes the importance of access to health care. Maimonides lists health care among the ten most important communal services that has to be offered by a city to its residents. (Mishneh Torah, SeferHamadda IV:23). It is therefore important that we stay up to date on the latest developments in the health care landscape and take action to advocate for increased access to affordable health care when possible. This past month alone has been full of important health care developments:
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…