Obama administration refuses to release Bush-era OLC opinion characterizing “anti-prostitution policy requirement” as unconstitutional

The Obama Administration has pledged to restore transparency in government.  But last week the Brennan Center had to sue for the release of a Bush-era opinion by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The opinion calls into question the government’s continued attempts to enforce an unconstitutional speech restriction – the “anti-prostitution policy requirement”-- undermining the global fight against HIV/AIDS.

The requirement forces non-profits that receive federal funds to fight HIV/AIDS overseas to adopt organizational policies explicitly opposing prostitution. While the non-profits do not support prostitution, many use HIV/AIDS prevention methods developed by public health experts, which include working closely with prostitutes in a non-judgmental manner.  The policy requirement undermines that work.

In February 2004, OLC wrote a memo stating that enforcing the policy requirement against U.S. organizations would be unconstitutional.  The opinion was a remarkable moment of honesty.  Because the February 2004 opinion has never been publicly disclosed, we do not know the particulars of its legal reasoning.  It must have been pretty forceful, though:  at least two government agencies – the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) – heeded the OLC policy requirement memo, refraining from enforcing the policy requirement for about 18 months.


The Baucus Bill: Right step, wrong direction (Rep. Joe Sestak)

The health care reform bill passed by the Senate Finance Committee chaired by Sen. Max Baucus is not the reform we need and is not the reform we promised the American people. In its current state, the bill reinforces health insurance monopolies, does not provide access to affordable care for all Americans, and does not present a full and honest accounting of its costs. While I am encouraged that the Finance Committee has moved forward, I hope our Congressional leaders will embrace the legislation passed in my committee (Education and Labor) in the House that better controls cost, expands coverage, and improves care.

The Senate Finance committee is the last of five Congressional committees to advance a health care plan. It is the only one that lacks a public health insurance option.

The public option is crucial if we want to introduce competition and bring down costs. The current health insurance industry is highly monopolized, with a small group of insurers exercising an almost "cartel" like power to dictate prices and continually raise premiums and fees on American families. Nationwide, an astounding 94% of insurance markets meet Department of Justice criteria for being "non-competitive." In Pennsylvania, two insurance companies control 70% of the market; one company has 74% of all the insurance plans in Southeast Pennsylvania.


Democrats: Stop kissing elephant trunk and reform health insurance right

The meeting got testy. Voices rose last Thursday among Democrats over differences in the Senate Finance and Health committee versions of insurance reform.

Max Baucus defended his committee’s bill, voted out last week with one Republican, but lacking a public option and burdening the middle class. He said, according to reports by Sen. Evan Bayh: “We are doing the best we can.”

Maybe Baucus is doing the best he can, considering the fact that his committee, in search of Republican support, has been kissing elephant trunk so long it doesn’t know which end is up.   


Healthcare reform debate echo 'voices of communities of color'

We rolled over from one side of the freeway to the other. One of the freeway guard rails hit my arm…[At the hospital] my son and daughter were seen right away. I was the one who was losing lots of blood, but they wouldn't see me because I didn't have insurance. I had to pay before I got surgery. I lost lots of blood just waiting…Finally we called my oldest daughter and she did the payment over the phone. For months after, and even today, glass still falls out of my arm. -Rafael (Stockton, California)

Rafael’s story is just one of more than 7,000 signed postcard messages from 39 states and the District of Columbia that the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) hand-delivered to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office yesterday. Through these messages, we are urging Congress to do everything possible to ensure that all Americans have affordable healthcare.

The postcards, gathered by NCLR staff and collected through the organization’s Affiliate Network, are personal stories that describe the urgent need for healthcare signed by community members, advocates, and Latino leaders from throughout the country. While the core of the campaign were messages sent from California, Illinois, Montana, and North Carolina, they are part of a national campaign initiated by NCLR to make sure that the voices of communities of color are heard in the healthcare reform debate at a time when the House of Representatives and the Senate are getting closer to voting on their versions of the bill.

The campaign will continue until Congress passes healthcare reform that works for all American families—not only in emergency situations, but also when it comes to preventive care. Given that nearly one in three (30.7%) Hispanics in the U.S. are uninsured, fixing our broken healthcare system is crucial to the community. NCLR is actively pursuing reform that is meaningful to the 14 million uninsured Latinos in this nation.

NCLR urges both bodies of Congress to guarantee affordable healthcare reform that removes barriers to coverage for legal immigrants, addresses health disparities among communities of color, and ensures that the excessive verification proposals that could end up hurting U.S. citizens most are excluded.

To ensure that health care reform works for all communities, call Speaker Pelosi at (202) 225-0100 and ask her to make sure that health care reform removes barriers to coverage for legal immigrants and no additional verification requirements are imposed.


House Democrats pull 'nuclear option” on healthcare (Rep. Dave Camp)

It has been two-and-a-half months since the Ways and Means Committee last voted on healthcare reform. Since then, thousands of Americans spoke up – often loudly – to voice their objections to the House Democrats’ healthcare bill, H.R. 3200. We have also received new information from the Congressional Budget Office since then, including the full $1.2 trillion price tag of the bill and the fact that reducing lawsuit abuse would save taxpayers $54 billion and reduce premiums for all Americans.

Based on that information Ways and Means Republicans sought to offer amendments to the House Democrats’ healthcare bill yesterday. Unfortunately those amendments and the voices of the American people were shut out when Ways and Means Democrats rammed through a letter instructing the House Budget Committee to consider healthcare under reconciliation – which requires only 51 votes for Senate passage as opposed to the normal 60 votes. In taking this nuclear option on healthcare, House Democrat leaders sent a clear signal that they plan to go it alone – without the support of the American people, without bipartisan support and without the support of many of their fellow Democrats.

What were they afraid to debate? Ways and Means Democrats knew that Republicans planned to offer a handful of amendments, including giving the American people 72 hours to read and analyze the healthcare bill before it is voted on, reducing the deficit by $54 billion through medical liability lawsuit reform, preventing illegal immigrants from receiving taxpayer funded benefits, requiring Members of Congress to enroll in the same government-run health plan that they plan to force millions of Americans into, preventing health reform money from landing in the hands of ACORN, and letting seniors know that their Medicare premiums would increase if this bill becomes law. Under the direction of Speaker Pelosi, the Ways and Means Democrats shut down open, public debate on the healthcare bill, instead taking it behind closed doors and going against their pledge to have the most open, transparent government.

This is not the healthcare debate the American people were promised and it isn’t the debate they deserve.


Commonsense healthcare changes that will add up to savings (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen)

As the healthcare debate continues, we must remain focused on our goal to make healthcare more affordable and accessible. The facts are clear: healthcare is becoming unaffordable for families and small businesses, and we cannot wait any longer to pass a reform bill.

A big part of reforming our healthcare system is simply fixing what doesn’t work. This week, I have introduced two commonsense bills that will help us repair the healthcare system so that it works better for all Americans.

The first bill, the Reducing Emergency Department Utilization through Coordination and Empowerment, or REDUCE Act, would reduce costly and excessive emergency room visits. As the system stands now, an estimated $14 billion is wasted every year in unnecessary emergency room visits. This bill will provide frequent emergency room users with more consistent and coordinated care while reducing ER costs and overcrowding.

The second bill, the Access to Affordable Medicines Act, will increase access to lower cost generic drugs by closing a loophole some brand name drug companies exploit to delay the entry of safe, lower-cost generic drugs to the consumer market.

Generic drugs save consumers an estimated eight to ten billion dollars a year. This bill will close a loophole in labeling regulation, and allow safe, FDA approved generic drugs to enter the marketplace more quickly. This could translate into millions of dollars in consumer savings per generic drug.

These bills are the types of reforms that will have real cost savings for consumers and the government, the types of sensible reforms that will improve health outcomes, and the types of reforms that will help patients get the care they need when they need it. These are changes we can all agree on.


The president's actions must match his words (Rep. Joe Barton)

When President Obama spoke to Congress on his health care plan, I was thinking about the 16-day stretch in July during which his bill was being assembled on Capitol Hill. That’s because so much of what he told us, whether about deficits, illegal aliens or abortions, seemed at odds with what the Congress is doing in his name.

“I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits – either now or in the future,” the president said. He was unequivocal, and I applaud his promise, but the Congressional Budget Office reports that the Obama health care bill making its way through the House, H.R. 3200, will add $220 billion to the U.S. budget deficits over 10 years. A new report issued on Sept. 9 by the Peterson Foundation found that it will create an additional $1 trillion in deficit spending between 2020 and 2029.


Community pharmacists are key to maximizing medication therapy, lowering health care costs

Americans are leaving billions of dollars on the health care table through the improper use of prescription medication.  How much? $290 billion annually, according to the New England Healthcare Institute. That’s about $1 of every $10 spent on health care in the U.S. today.

Community pharmacists are positioned better than anyone to right this wrong. We’re in every part of the country; urban, rural and everywhere in between. Our patients are of all ages and budgets who receive personal service from a member of their community without waiting at the mailbox wondering when their medication will arrive.


History had the wrong number

“When history calls, history calls,” Sen. Olympia Snowe said in explaining her “yes” vote on the Finance Committee’s health care reform legislation Tuesday.

Snowe is apparently under the impression that “history” was calling for economy-crippling taxes, more debt for our children, and higher insurance premiums for middle class Americans.


Why we're breaking with the Blue Dogs on the public option (Rep. Jane Harman and Rep. Loretta Sanchez)

Throughout the congressional health care debate, considerable attention has focused on the Blue Dog Coalition - a group of House Democrats committed to fiscal responsibility and budget discipline.

We're Blue Dogs, too, and we believe in the group's core principles. But we've broken with our Blue Dog sisters and brothers over their lukewarm support for the public insurance option a concept we think must be part of a successful health care reform package.

Far from being an option of last resort or a government-funded takeover of the country's health care system, we see the public option as a critical market mechanism that will drive down costs, foster competition and expand Americans' insurance choices.

This is not just smart health care policy, it is smart economic policy.