Healthcare Roundup: The battle over who determines the truth

It's the ultimate union of strange-bedfellows this week in Ohio, where a conservative anti-abortion group has teamed up with a liberal civil-rights organization to attack a state election law prohibiting "false statements."

The Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) contend the Ohio Elections Commission has no right to bar an SBA billboard accusing Rep. Steve Driehaus (D) of supporting "taxpayer-funded abortion" when he voted in March for the new healthcare law.

Earlier this month, Driehaus complained the message violates a state law restricting "false statements."

A three-member panel of commissioners sided with Driehaus, sending the complaint to a seven-member panel, which is scheduled to hear the case on Oct. 28. Meantime, the billboard owner has yanked the signs for fear of legal repercussions.

But on Monday, SBA sued to overturn the law, arguing that it violates First Amendment rights protecting free speech.

SBA's argument

James Bopp, Jr., a conservative constitutional lawyer arguing the case on behalf of SBA, told The Washington Independent Wednesday that the substance of SBA's claims about what the healthcare law does is not the issue at hand.

"The constitutional arguments we’re making do not depend on whether they’re truthful or not, but we are arguing that they are truthful," Bopp told TWI

"Our principle argument against the statute is that the government is empowering itself to decide the truth or falsity of information that’s related to elections. The way they’ve formulated the law is vague and not just related to express advocacy but also issue advocacy, and that’s unconstitutional."

ACLU jumps in

On Wednesday, the ACLU filed an amicus brief backing Bopp's argument.

"The people have an absolute right to criticize their public officials," ACLU says. "[T]he government should not be the arbiter of true or false speech and, in any event, the best answer for bad speech is more speech."

Driehaus finds his own backers

Several Democratic anti-abortion groups have also entered the fray — in support of Driehaus. 

"There are limits on free speech," Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, told reporters Wednesday. "There's a tremendous amount of harm done when voters are lied to in the context of an election. It undermines the democratic process, and I believe that there should be restrictions on lying."

Democrats For Life of America is another anti-abortion group fighting the SBA lawsuit. Kristen Day, the group's executive director, told TWI this week that the anti-abortion movement is becoming more interested in partisan politics than the policy surrounding abortion.

“The pro-life movement is more Republican and more line with the party than I’ve ever seen it," Day told TWI. "[SBA's arguments] are just a classic example of groupthink where if you repeat a claim enough times you’ll all kind of believe it.”

Judge Timothy Black of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio was expected to rule on the case Wednesday, but no announcement has yet come from his office.

A Democratic governor warns of employers dropping coverage

Philip Bredesen, the Democratic governor of Tennessee, warns Thursday that the new healthcare reform bill includes "strong economic incentives for employers to drop health coverage altogether."

"For a person starting a business in 2014, it will be logical and responsible simply to plan from the outset never to offer health benefits," Bredesen writes Thursday in The Wall Street Journal. "Employees, thanks to the exchanges, can easily purchase excellent, fairly priced insurance, without pre-existing condition limitations, through the exchanges. 

"As it grows, the business can avoid a great deal of cost because the federal government will now pay much of what the business would have incurred for its share of health insurance. The small business tax credits included in health reform are limited and short-term, and the eventual penalty for not providing coverage, of $2,000 per employee, is still far less than the cost of insurance it replaces." 

Not the first time this warning has surfaced 

Indeed, it was one of the central criticisms of the healthcare overhaul a few years back in Massachusetts, where a similar system was created. 

Yet the mass exodus from employer-sponsored coverage has yet to happen there, according to Harvey Cotton, a Boston-based health consultant at the firm Ropes & Gray. Instead, Cotton said during a swing through Washington this month, businesses have maintained their coverage for the simple reasons that (1) it makes them more attractive to prospective workers, and (2) it's to their advantage to ensure that employees remain healthy. 

Time will tell if the same rings true on a national level. 

Why the confusion over healthcare reform? Maybe just look at the ads

Expensive ad campaigns funded by opponents of the new healthcare law are driving the election-season debate over the reforms, NPR's Julie Rovner reports.

And the messages, she notes, aren't always accurate.

One U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad, for instance, goes after Democratic lawmakers for supporting a "government takeover of health care crushing small businesses with billions in penalties."

Yet, a watchdog project of the St. Petersburg Times, said the message is simply "false."

"We found [the Chamber's] claim perplexing," PolitiFact writes, "because small businesses can actually qualify for tax credits under the new health care law."

Moreover, PolitiFact notes, 96 percent of the nation's small businesses are explicitly exempt from paying a penalty if they don't offer coverage to their employees. 

Southern states higher in teen pregnancies

Although national teen-pregnancy rates are on the decline, the disparities between states are often dramatic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Wednesday.

In Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, for instance, 2008 birth rates were less than 25 per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19, CDC found. In the same year, Arkansas, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas all had rates topping 60 per 1,000 teens.

Some women's health advocates say the discrepancies are an indication that comprehensive sex-education programs are producing results for states that offer them, while states emphasizing abstinence-only programs aren't faring as well.  

The report, said Leslie Kantor, national education director of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, "makes it crystal clear that the teen birthrate is lower in states that provide students with comprehensive, evidence-based sex education."

Disparities found in breast cancer treatment

Most hospitals in the Chicago area can't demonstrate they meet minimum quality standards for breast cancer treatment, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The findings, to be released Thursday by the Chicago Breast Cancer Quality Consortium, were researched in hopes of fixing the "alarming racial disparity in Chicago's breast cancer mortality rates," the Tribune writes.

"Only about a third of the facilities offering screening could demonstrate that they met the standard for early detection of breast cancer, or finding cancer when it is small," the paper writes. "About 60 percent were able to demonstrate that they met the quality standard for finding cancer, which means identifying 4 to 9 cancers for every 1,000 screening mammograms." 

The Sinai Urban Health Institute found that the average death rate for black Chicago women between 2005 and 2007 was 62 percent higher than that for white women, according to the Tribune.