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Affordable Care Act causes debate over women’s health

Moral and fiscal reasons are creating question over some of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act

Birth control has become a primary objection to the Affordable Care Act

The New Year is bringing with it new medical coverage for women’s reproductive health with the Affordable Care Act—coverage that has left some groups upset with the proposed fiscal and moral consequences.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a bill that expands medical coverage for all previously ineligible persons over a period of years and reforming health care coverage, includes specific coverage for women that was previously unavailable through many insurance providers and business policies.

Advocates for the new women’s provisions under the act say that the changes will be beneficial for women in many ways.

Amy Allina, program director for the National Women’s Health Network—an organization that promotes and analyzes issues that are affecting women—says that the provisions that will take effect in 2012 will help women immensely.

“These provisions have an enormous amount to offer women in lifting some of the barriers to health care from the past.,” she said. “This is a historical accomplishment for women’s health.”

One of the primary aspects of coverage that will take effect next year is the free access to birth control and contraceptives that will be on insurance plans beginning in January.

“We have done research on the benefits of covering contraceptive effectiveness as well as the adverse effects, and the result is that it will save women in being able to prevent unwanted pregnancies,” said Christine Stencel, media relations officer for The Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academies.

The IOM has conducted “evidence reviews” of the coverage that was recommended to the Department of Health and Human Services’ suggestions for additions to the act.

Among those reviews and suggestions, several previously uncovered benefits were suggested to optimize the health coverage for women including, breast cancer screening, HIV screening and counseling and regular well-women care visits.

“The committee reviewed the suggestions and decided this coverage should be added because, based on the science, these would be beneficial to women’s health,” Stencel said.

The most contentious issue, for some, is the access and coverage of contraceptives in basic health insurance plans.

Sister Claire Hunter, F.S.E. and director of the Diocesan Respect Life Office, says the coverage goes against the Catholic Church and that the coverage makes her uncomfortable.

“As a Catholic, I don’t feel comfortable with this coverage,” she said. “I think as Americans, we have the right to freedom of religion and my conscious just doesn’t agree with this coverage.”

In addition to her concerns with the morality of covering birth control, Sister Claire also believes that Americans don’t have a clear understanding of the responsibilities and consequences involved with taking contraceptives.

“The greater concern is the regard to human life. New life is not able to implant is the woman is taking birth control,” she said. “Women who need this for medical reasons should look into other alternatives rather than a chemical substance. We need to have a deeper understanding of the body and of sexuality.”

Allina says the moral argument doesn’t make sense to her since the actual contraception is available on a voluntary level.

“I find this argument a bit confusing,” she said. “No one is forcing women to take birth control. It is a provision that is there for the women who need and want to have access to it.”

The morality of such legislation is not the only concern that has been raised about this provision and others like it within the act.

Kate Nix, policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation—a conservative organization—says that the fiscal responsibilities are being ignored, as well.

“The U.S. spends more, as a percentage of our GDP, than any other nation on health care,” she said. “To the American people it seems very obvious that we should be able to expand coverage, bring costs down, without spending almost a trillion dollars over a decade on new federal programs.”

Listen to Nix describe some of the moral objections to the act:

Others, say that the coverage will raise the premiums only a fraction of a percent while enabling millions of uninsured Americans access to health care for themselves and for their families.

Sara Collins, vice president for Affordable Health Insurance—a division of The Commonwealth Fund—says that the increase would be marginal compared to the coverage that will be afforded to so many Americans.

“These new provisions will be beneficial because they will save costs over time,” she said. “The increase in premiums will only be about 0.4 percent while guaranteeing millions of people much better coverage.”
Nix says that there is no question that the health care system that was in place was fractured, but that there should have been a different type of reform.

“I think no one would disagree that before the affordable care act passed, we were in desperate need of health care reform,” she said. “There really are two ways to go about it. A market driven action or empower the government. Rather than empowering the consumer of the health care coverage, we are going in the opposite direction and expanding medical programs which are already unaffordable.”

According to a blog post by Ruth Robertson with The Commonwealth Fund, “Women spend more out-of-pocket on health care than men do and are more likely to forgo needed care each year because of cost. And millions of women both with and without insurance are missing out on essential preventive care each year.”

Allina agrees that the new health care system is not perfect, but says ignoring the problem of health care coverage would be worse for Americans.

“Take a look at the system,” she said. “Doing nothing would have been harmful to Americans and harmful to women.”

Though some of the provisions have been a contentious issue since the beginning of the health care reform revisions were made, most agree that health care will be crucial in the upcoming elections and important for Americans as the new year approaches.

“I think you’ve seen in the polls that opposition to the law has remained steady for the American people since its passage,” Nix said. “You’ve actually seen support for full repeal increase. So I think it’s definitely something that is not going to go away soon.”

Others, like Allina say that the election will be a turning point for health care decisions.

“Health care will be very important in the elections because people will have started to see the impact of these new benefits and will see their health care improve with the laws,” she said. “I also recognize that this is such a politically fraught issue and that health care reform turns into a proxy for supporting democratic politicians, which takes away some of the real importance.”

The upcoming election and the moral and fiscal debate are still strong over the act and over women’s health.

“It is rife with harmful unintended consequences that will impact the health care system and the economy,” Nix said. “The law also fails to address several of the most important goals for health care reform, such as the rising cost of insurance. It is imperative that the law be repealed so that this route can be avoided and the right reforms can be put in place.”

Anti-War sentiment Grows with Occupy D.C.

The Occupy movement has seen an increase in protestors looking for an end to war and an end to defense spending

The month-long Occupy D.C. movement has become a sort of springboard for protestors to voice their concerns with issues that they feel have been swept under the rug in recent years—namely defense spending on conflict.

Bill Miniutti camping at Freedom Plaza says he is opposed to the war

Bill Miniutti, a Vietnam veteran and an Occupy protestor since the beginning of the D.C. movement in October, said the assembly gives him a chance to confront the problems he sees with war.

“I came down here to stop the wars,” he said. “What I saw [in Vietnam] was wrong and we’re still doing it.”

Listen to Miniutti talk about his other concerns

Signs spread throughout the campsite at Freedom Plaza—where dozens of tents have been housing protestors since Oct. 6—echoed his sentiment. Some of the anti-war signs were standing with wooden frames and others were taped to coffee cups.

Protestors and economic experts were not ignoring the concerns of people like Miniutti at a hearing they held in Freedom Plaza Wednesday to discuss the Occupy D.C. movement’s progress and goals for the future.

This anti-war sentiment seems to be growing after years of being somewhat stagnant—growing, at least, in the Occupy D.C. protests.

In a recent study published in Mobilization: An International Journal, the authors discuss the waxing and waning of the anti-war attitude and attribute the attitudes diminishing strength to Obama’s election in 2008.

“While Obama’s election was heralded as a victory for the antiwar movement,

Obama’s election, in fact, thwarted the ability of the movement to achieve critical mass,” wrote Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas.

With the increasing power of the anti-war sentiment in the Occupy D.C. protests, some are left wondering if the attitude will continue to grow if the Occupy movements grow and become more united.

Anti-war protest mug

Cathy Schneider, associate professor in the School of International Service at American University said she believes that the movement is still too divided to have a real impact on the anti-war movement, but said that if the movement were to become more unified, anti-war sentiment has a chance of growing.

“I have listened to veterans, at the Occupy protests, speak about the atrocities of war and it is very moving. I think that is where the movement is getting its anti-war attitudes. It is not a vocal part of their claims,” she said, adding that if the protest put this into their framework, they would gain momentum.

Carl Conetta, of the Project on Defense Alternatives, spoke at the hearing about the costs of the War in Afghanistan and answered questions from the audience regarding the federal budget and defense spending. He said the current military expense is equal to that of the Cold War.

“Today, there is no competitor comparable to the old Soviet empire,” he said. “So, why spend so much?”

He added that the Pentagon’s budget increased by 2.5 trillion dollars in the past 12 years in what he called the “pentagon money surge.” Half of that budget, he said, went to funding new wars.

Anti-war protests at Occupy D.C.

“The pentagon is crowding out the state department in pursuing goals that used to be the work of diplomacy and development aid,” Conetta said, adding that military contractors have made the total military population grow to the size of the military during the Cold War—a possible explanation, he said, for the increase in spending.

Miniutti said he thinks it is unacceptable that so much money is being spent on defense spending.

“The scope of [military spending] is huge,” he said. “Who are we going to fight? Every human being on the face of the planet? It’s ridiculous. We need schools, we need jobs and we need bridges. It doesn’t make sense.”

Others protesters, like William Rose, have a simpler focus.

Listen to Rose’s comments here.

Long-term care act, called CLASS, has “gone to recess” but is still supported

When the long-term care act was repealed from health care reform on Oct. 14, supporters were upset for the families who may have benefited

By Alex Murray

Officials expressed concerns for the lives of disabled and elderly persons during a joint subcommittee hearing Wednesday, should a long-term care act be permanently eliminated from the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act.

“We have a very serious long-term care problem in this country. Costs are driving people into bankruptcy and weighing down an already over-burdened Medicaid program,” Joe Pitts, chairman of the Health Subcommittee, said. “The CLASS Act should not only be shelved, it should be repealed.”

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle debated the future of the act. Those in favor of the act being amended and implemented as a part of health care reform worried that those in need of the extra services would be ignored—a population which is expected to reach 15 million people in the next decade.

The Community Living Assistance Services and Supports Act is a provision of health care reform that would allow the elderly and those with disabilities to have access to long-term care either in their home or in an assisted living facility. The act was recently dropped form health care reform by the Department of Health and Human Services because of the potential unsustainable budget for the act over the next 75 years.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., expressed his frustration with the repeal of the act and said that the American people need Congress to do something for those who need access to affordable care instead of rejecting the act as it stands now.

“We will be turning our backs on Americans who need long term care,” he said. “Why can’t we do things? What makes us Americans is that we are can-do people. We can have affordable healthcare.”

Rep. Donna Christiansen, D-Virgin Islands, backs the provision and says that although there are some flaws in the act, the benefit outweighs the time it would take to amend the act.

Many officials worried that the elderly and disabled were being overlooked by the worries that the provision would not save money over time.

“We just can’t play ostrich on this and turn it into a political football,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said. “If we can come up with some plan of action and give families this modest bridge to be able to live their lives whether they are disabled or elderly.

The impact on the elderly and those with disabilities was also a concern for former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., who addressed his personal experiences with elder care and Republican concerns that the act will not cut spending.

“In my father’s case, he needed supportive living services; And My Uncle Sarg Shriver’s case who near the end had dementia. It was non-medical supportive living services that helped them in their lives,” he said. “And guess what, it’s the least expensive. I should be getting all the chorus of support from my Republican friends; if you want to reduce medical costs, try using non-medical support services.”

Many more people are seeking non-medical care and in-home care as cost-effective alternatives to nursing home or assisted living facilities. Tom Gitter of Right at Home—an in-home care service—says that he has seen an increase in those looking for their services.

In contrast, assisted living homes, like the Methodist Home of D.C. have seen a drop in those looking for live-in care since the economy began to decline. They have also seen some residents leave because they were unable to pay for the care, according to Karen Fryer, director of resident services. She says the act—which would take the burden from Medicare and Medicaid—would be good for everyone.

“Whatever resources are available, I say the more the better because we are all going to be there at some point,” she said in an interview.

While many supported the act, just as many were relieved to see it repealed saying that it was unsustainable and would have failed before the allotted 75 years was complete.

Rep. Cliff Stearns said the bill had a “critical design flaw” and would have eventually gone bankrupt. In response to Pallone’s comment that nothing is being done in Congress, he responded by saying “We are doing something here in Congress. We’re trying to balance the budget.”

With the concerns over budget constraints and the fate of the families and individuals who would wish to seek benefits from the act, no real answer was given for the fate of the act. Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, gave no definitive answer when asked if the provision was being amended or if it was permanently repealed.

Oktoberfest arrives in Leesburg

The entrance to Oktoberfest at the Doner Bistro. People ordered food and drinks.

Doner Bistro is one of those quaint little restaurants that people love to patronize because of its unique food, friendly atmosphere and its great events. One of those events is the Oktoberfest celebration at the Leesburg location.

Throughout the weekend, the staff turned out pint after pint of the special Oktoberfest lager—as well as their bountiful selection of other German and Bavarian brews. People came to enjoy live German music, beer and of course the Doner kebab—a meat and flatbread sandwich.

This event was the fourth annual Oktoberfest celebration since the bistro opened its doors.

Nicole Winkel, the owner, said her favorite part is seeing everyone get such enjoyment out of the food and entertainment.

Elisabeth Lloyd and Tom Leoni of Liab' und Shneid in their traditional garb as they take a break from playing

“It’s all about having fun,” she said, “My favorite part is when I see people smiling and dancing and having fun and telling me what a great time they had.”

The entertainment did excite the visitors of the bistro. The live band that was playing was the duo known as Liab’ und Shneid, an Alpine music group based in Washington. Dressed for the occasion in traditional garb, Elisabeth Lloyd and Tom Leoni played traditional music of Austria and Bavaria. Both said they were very excited to play at the Oktoberfest celebration and said that it felt like being at home in Europe.

“I just really love to play this type of music. It’s so much fun to see how people respond to it. They clap along, so it does feel like we are back home.”

Guests and staff alike enjoyed the festivities. Ed Castillo, Doner Bistro employee, said there is nothing not to love about the celebration.

“It’s fun…everybody seems to be happy,” he said, “The food is great, so I like pretty much everything.”

Baltimore’s Fells Point Fun Festival

Every year, Baltimore’s historic Fells Point section closes the streets for an event that attracts thousands. Fells Fest, as it is commonly known, is a two-day event features food, music, rides and a flea market. In its 44th year, the festival was originally intended to raise funds for the small community and now is an eventful Baltimore tradition.

Haymarket Day unites town

Vendors set up in the lawn by Washington Street on Haymarket Day

Town spirit day brings the community together at the 24th annual Haymarket Day

By Alex Murray

Small towns everywhere are embracing traditions to keep communities together and thriving. Haymarket, Va. is no different. On Sept. 17 residents came together to show their town pride and participate in a parade, trolley rides and other family-friendly activities at the annual Haymarket Day.

Food services, small businesses and churches were among the many vendors set up along Washington Street on the dreary Saturday morning. The rain didn’t stop anyone from having a great time, though.

 “My favorite part is the actual social interaction with all of the people. It’s a very positive community with a lot of interesting people,” Barbara Hoffman, a resident of Haymarket, said, “It’s nice to see what the local businesses are doing.”

With a population of approximately 20-thousand people, the community is very close. Even vendors like Carol Granger of the Heritage Hunt golf course found the community and meeting people to be her favorite parts of the day.

“This is my first time at Haymarket Day,” she said, “The best part is everybody gets to meet their neighbors and find out about different things that are around them that they are unaware of.”

In addition to vendors, the U.S. Commodores Navy Band performed throughout the morning as trolleys took passengers around the town to different stops and events. Pony rides, hot air balloon rides and a car show were all stops along the line.

Resident Kevin Garrahan said his favorite part is being with his neighbors and being able to see his children interact with the community. “To be able to participate in the parade and to see them active in the scouts and with the church groups was terrific,” he said.

 Children had an especially good time at the festivities. When asked what his favorite part of Haymarket Day was, Bryce Austin gave an enthusiastic answer. “Going to the bounce house,” he said.

With all the excitement and energy, the Haymarket community was able to enjoy what the town has to offer and share in that small-town experience that you don’t find in anywhere else.

Farmers Market Prepares for Winter

The Gainesville farmers market will stay open through the winter, but some vendors may not stay

Fall and winter are descending upon the northeast and with the colder months comes changes for outdoor activities and functions. Farmers markets are facing the upcoming chill, as well and some shoppers wonder if their favorite stands will be open once the leaves start to fall.

The Gainesville Farmers Market, located in the Gateway shopping center, plans to stay open all winter. Each vendor is responsible for their stand and can individually determine if they want to stay through the winter months.

Open every Sunday, customers from the surrounding towns come to one of the only farmers markets in the area for fresh produce, wine, meats and cheeses, baked goods and hand-made crafts.  

Most of the vendors say they will stay as long as they are able to travel to the location to sell their goods.

When asked if the Ma Chef catering stand would stay open all winter, Mabelle Rilloz, the caterer, answered “Yes, yes. We will. Yes, thanks God. I really want to.”

Another vendor who hopes to stay with the market through the winter is June Bush, who helps run Lothar’s Gourmet Sausage stand.

“We’re going to have to weather it out. We have a lot of loyal customers so they will be disappointed if we don’t come,” she said, “This market is supposed to be open all winter so we’ll stay with the market.”

Some vendors, though, are not planning to stay through fall. Julie Coonce, one of the sales people for Betty’s Chips and Salsa said that the stand will only be around for the remainder of the summer and the beginning of fall. Coonce said the stand would be at the farmers market “until Oct. 24, I believe.”

While fall and winter usually bring a great deal of cooking, it looks like some local residence should plan on buying some of their treasured farmers market goods at the grocery store soon.