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Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

As we mark Women’s Health Week 2012, women have a lot more reason to celebrate than they did last year. Thanks to recent laws, particularly the Affordable Care Act, more women are able to access preventative health care without the burdensome and sometimes cost-prohibitive co-pays and deductibles.

When it comes to accessing health care, women face a unique set of challenges. Women earn 77 cents on average for every dollar that men earn, yet they use more health care services than men. As a result, women have historically faced high levels of health care insecurity, and many encounter unpaid medical bills and long-lasting debt as a result of health problems.

One major way in which women’s health has improved this year is through the coverage of necessary preventive care. Soon, all new insurance plans will cover preventive health care screenings and services as defined by the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine. By supporting prevention and early detection of diseases, not only will women benefit from better physical health, but the financial strain on our health care system will also be reduced, and the economy as a whole will improve.

The two leading causes of death for women in America by far are heart disease and cancer — afflictions that can often be prevented if women have access to preventive care services such as screenings, immunizations, and educational materials. The Affordable Care Act contains a provision requiring insurance companies to cover, without co-pays or cost-sharing, preventive health care services such as screenings for domestic abuse and gestational diabetes as well as all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive services. After controversy over the inclusion of contraceptive coverage, the Obama administration announced an accommodation for religiously affiliated universities and employers, which allows insurers instead of employers to pay for this service.

Another advance is the end of “gender rating” practices. Gender rating is the process by which insurance companies charge men and women different premiums for individually purchased health care plans. A 2008 report found that at age 25, women were charged anywhere from 6 percent to 45 percent more than men for individual market plans; at age 45, women’s monthly premiums ranged from 4 percent to 48 percent higher than men’s monthly premiums. Under the Affordable Care Act, gender rating will be banned for plans offered in both the individual and small-group markets for organizations employing 100 people or fewer. Beginning in 2014, women in these plans will soon be charged the same rate as men.

Americans cannot continue to refuel our economy as productive members of the workforce if they are sick, saddled with health care costs, or — in the case of women — blatantly discriminated against by their insurance providers. As we mark Women’s Health Week, it’s important to recall the progress that has been made in fixing a broken health care system that, for too long, has cost too much and served too few.

It's My Vote, I will be Heard

AAUW is working to make sure that the voices of all women are heard regarding health care and much more. The AAUW Action Fund’s It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign is making an unprecedented investment in turning out women voters. AAUW is educating, engaging, and registering millennial (ages 18–30) women voters across the country. Together, we’ll ensure that women understand what’s at stake in 2012 and know how to use their voices and their votes to influence the election and protect women’s health care gains!

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“I’ve just concluded that, for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

—President Barack Obama, May 9, 2012

Earlier this week, President Obama became the first sitting president to declare his personal support for same-sex marriage, telling an interviewer that he saw it as a matter of equality. AAUW applauds the president’s announcement. Our member-adopted Biennial Action Priorities affirm our commitment to “freedom in definition of family and guarantee of civil rights in all family structures,” and our Public Policy Program confirms our “opposition to all forms of discrimination and support for constitutional protection for the civil rights of all individuals.”

AAUW opposes any attempt to use the Constitution or federal law as a vehicle for enshrining discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) persons. No Americans should be denied the full range of civil rights and civil liberties due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Such rights and liberties include freedom from discrimination in the workplace, the right to marry, the guarantee of spousal or partner benefits — including the ability to care for dependent children — and the opportunity to serve one’s country in uniform.

While the president’s statement is significant and will have political reverberations, it has no legal impact. Yet the administration has already made significant strides toward promoting LGBT rights and equality, all of which AAUW has supported. These included repealing the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and deciding to no longer defend challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, which forbade federal recognition of same-sex marriages. The administration also recently endorsed the Student Nondiscrimination Act and the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which would protect all students, including LGBT students, from bullying and harassment. Additionally, the Department of Education has declared that student bullying and sexual harassment are civil rights issues that could be punished under Title IX protections. AAUW commends the administration for taking these steps toward equality for all Americans and urges the president to work toward laws protecting LGBT persons from discrimination.

AAUW opposes all forms of discrimination, and we are glad to see the president expressing his support for same-sex marriage. All Americans are equal under the Constitution and the law and should be treated as such.

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As the youngest of four, my kitchen assignment was usually putting away the dishes. My cooking experience had been short-lived as I would forget to put the water in with whatever frozen vegetable I was supposed to cook and the smell of burning would ultimately spoil the entire meal.

It was at the hands of a volunteer that I was able to face my then ingrained cooking fears and actually made an edible meal.  A group of moms had volunteered to teach our Brownie troop how to make a meal from start to finish and this one act of kindness helped boost my self-confidence. We went on to help make meals for a homeless shelter and the sense of wellbeing that came from helping others became an addiction.

I consider myself lucky to have had the ability to work in non-profits my entire professional life. When I came to work at AAUW, I soon became awed to experience firsthand what I had only read about before – the power of 100,000+ volunteers in action. As I met our members, I often heard the stories of their considerable accomplishments in communities, on college campuses, in state capitals, in front of the Supreme Court, on the Hill and even in the West Wing with numerous presidents over the years. Wow!

January 16th is this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, part of the United We Serve, the President’s national call to service initiative. I love the positive media coverage honoring volunteers around the country and give a special shout-out to our fabulous AAUW members who continue to carry out a 130 year tradition of helping others.

In case you are still looking for take action on behalf of others this Monday, January 16th, here are a few links to suggestions from the AAUW family.

I still think there is nothing better than giving of your time and resources for a good cause. However, in the fairness of full disclosure, I do have to mention that I have never totally overcome my dislike of cooking…so my service tends to be pitching in to help clean our environment or loving the fact I work at AAUW, who’s members and donors volunteer almost daily to help break through barriers on behalf of women and girls.

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Plan B One-StepAAUW was seriously disappointed by the Obama administration’s Wednesday decision, directly defended by the president, to block the Food and Drug Administration’s approval of selling emergency contraception to women without restriction. Along with the rest of the women’s rights community, AAUW expected the Obama administration to approve the over-the-counter sale of Plan B contraception — commonly referred to as the morning-after pill — without requiring a prescription. We are disheartened by this decision, especially since it seems to contradict the administration’s stated commitment to following science instead of politics when making decisions. Yet, as a statement from the director of the FDA makes clear, this decision was based on politics, not science.

Approved for use by the FDA in 1997, emergency contraception, or Plan B, prevents pregnancy after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure. In March 2009, a federal judge in New York ordered the FDA to reconsider its previous decision to limit nonprescription access to emergency contraception to women ages 18 and older, asserting that the entire process had been influenced by “political and ideological” considerations imposed by the Bush administration. This decision made emergency contraception available over the counter  to women 17 and older only. The FDA’s decision this week concerned whether to retain or lift this restriction, a change that AAUW supported.

AAUW encourages efforts to increase education about and access to emergency contraception for all women, including minors, and believes emergency contraception should be available without prescriptions or restrictions. Greater awareness of and improved access to emergency contraception could help reduce the rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion in the United States. AAUW supports the right of every woman to obtain medically accurate information about and access to safe and comprehensive reproductive health services. This is also why AAUW supports comprehensive sex education programs. The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections in the developed world.

The decision appears to be part of a worrying pattern from the Obama administration on women’s reproductive rights. For example, 2011 appropriations — at the president’s behest — reinstated the ban on Washington, D.C.’s, use of its own taxpayer money to fund abortions for low-income women. Additionally, the administration still has not fully rescinded the Bush-era “conscience clause” regulations, which allow health care providers to deny necessary medical care to women. Officials may also approve regulations that let certain employers deny contraceptive coverage to more than 1 million women who were guaranteed this coverage under the health care reform law.

AAUW has supported choice in women’s reproductive decisions since 1935. We need President Obama to do so as well.

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By Ceridwen (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.0-fr (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/fr/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons*UPDATE*: News reports indicate that President Obama could decide as soon as this week whether to deny women affordable access to contraceptives. TAKE ACTION to tell the administration that all women deserve access to birth control.

A few months ago, the Department of Health and Human Services recommended that new insurance plans cover women’s preventive health care, including contraceptive services, without requiring cost sharing or co-pays. AAUW applauded this decision but was disappointed that the Obama administration allowed certain employers to deny contraceptive coverage to their employees. Now, some opponents of contraception are pressuring President Obama to extend this exemption even further, which would deny contraceptive coverage to more than 1 million women.

We need you to send a message to the White House: Don’t exempt employers from covering women’s preventive care. All women should receive coverage for contraception without co-pays or cost sharing. Access to services such as contraception helps women control, track, and better manage their lifelong health.

Women face a unique set of health care challenges because they use more health services yet earn less on average than men. Requiring insurance providers to fully cover — without patient deductibles or co-pays — preventive services such as contraception, screenings, education, and counseling will go a long way toward expanding women’s access to health care services. These services are so critical to women’s health and well-being that they should be available to all women without exception.

The proposed coverage exemption would allow certain religious employers, such as religious charities, nonprofits and schools, to restrict employees’ access to health care and denies women who work for these employers coverage for necessary preventive care. This exemption is an obvious intrusion on the patient-doctor relationship and discriminates against women on the basis of sex.

This exemption also would put many women at risk for health problems that are easily avoided with proper preventative care. Employees who work for churches, synagogues, and other religious institutions — including administrative employees and faculty in religious schools — are just a few of those affected by the exemption. For example, the restriction would extend far beyond the direct effects on employees to their spouses and dependents as well.

Take action and tell the White House that you oppose this exemption that puts women’s health at risk!

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Debt ceiling. Government default. Increased revenues versus spending cuts. It’s enough to make you want to ignore the political gridlock dominating Washington these days. However, as tempting as that may be, what happens in our nation’s capital over the next week will have a major impact on our economy and government and will play an important role in the 2012 presidential election. So here’s what you need to know.

Congress and President Obama are fighting over raising the debt ceiling, which is a cap on the amount of money the Treasury Department can borrow to fund the federal government. The debt ceiling is currently set at $14.3 trillion. When Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling (as it has 74 times since 1962), it authorizes the Treasury to borrow the money needed to pay the bills incurred running the federal government. The cap covers federal debt owed to the public (i.e., anyone who buys U.S. bonds) plus debt owed to federal trust funds such as those for Social Security and Medicare.

The Treasury estimates that the United States will run out of funds to pay these bills, i.e., hit the debt ceiling, on August 2. When, or if, that happens, the United States would be unable to pay its bills, and there would be a government default. Despite myriad predictions, no one really knows what a government default would look like, but it wouldn’t be good. At a minimum, a default would hurt market confidence in the United States, affecting U.S. bonds, the strength of the dollar, and the U.S. stock market.

Despite the fast-approaching deadline, leaders in Washington appear unable to come to an agreement on how to solve this problem. Since there is no consensus on a “clean,” or unconditional, lift to the ceiling, Obama and Congress, particularly Republicans in the House of Representatives, are locked in pitched negotiations on the conditions under which the debt ceiling should be raised. The president has stated that any spending cuts must be accompanied by increased revenues, i.e., taxes, particularly on high-income earners, while House Republicans, led by Speaker of the House John Boehner, are insisting on deep spending cuts, such as changing the way Social Security benefits are calculated to reduce the benefits paid to retirees.

No one knows how this debate will end, but rest assured that AAUW will be there to protect the interests of women. Although AAUW recognizes that these are tough budgetary times, balancing the nation’s budget should not come on the backs of vulnerable Americans, including students, women, and working families. Politically motivated cuts to critical government programs would threaten our economy’s ability to recover from recession and volatility, create serious problems for the solvency of Social Security, and very likely force enormous cuts in programs that millions of Americans rely upon, such as welfare, Medicare, and Medicaid. These cuts would hurt ordinary Americans and have a lasting, detrimental impact on America’s economy.

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Last week, my attention was focused on the news surrounding German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s state visit. Her visit was significant because it marked many firsts for women in diplomacy. In addition to being Germany’s first woman chancellor, Merkel was the first female leader and the first European leader to come to the United States during the Obama administration. Merkel’s main purpose for visiting was to receive  the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She is only the fourth foreign leader to receive the award, joining the ranks of remarkable leaders like Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, and former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

I watched Merkel’s arrival at the White House last Tuesday intently from my desk via a live news stream as the events unfolded and President Barack Obama welcomed her. Speculation was floating around leading up to her visit about the tension between the two leaders and the status of their transatlantic relationship. All of that seemed to be set aside as the two leaders acted like old friends.

I got teary eyed at the end of Obama’s speech when he declared, “It’s obvious neither of us looks exactly like the leaders who preceded us.” The crowd roared with laughter, but it was a profound statement as Merkel is one of the most powerful women in the world, overseeing the fourth-largest economy in the world.

Later in the day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted a luncheon for Merkel honoring women in diplomacy. Merkel gave her speech in German, and at the end of her remarks, she gave a huge grin and joked that she had a small present for Clinton. Merkel seemed very amused with herself as she presented Clinton with a framed copy of a front page of Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper, which showed a picture of the two women in nearly identical pantsuits — one in a purple jacket and black slacks, and one in a fuchsia jacket and black slacks — alongside the text, “Which one is Merkel and which one is Clinton?” Merkel took great care to tell Clinton, “You may take it in a playful mode.” But this was unnecessary. Clinton, who frequently jokes about her wardrobe, howled with laughter when she received the gift.

For now, the world of diplomacy may still be a man’s world, but Merkel and Clinton have paved the way for future female leaders by way of the pantsuit.

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Earlier this week, the advocacy group People for the American Way released a report on the Senate’s record of blocking President Barack Obama’s judicial nominations. The report reached a shocking conclusion:

Since President Obama took office, every district court nominee with party-line opposition from Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans has been a woman or person of color. In addition, every public announcement of opposition to nominees from home-state Republican senators involves women or people of color. … Not a single Caucasian, male nominee elicited such opposition.

This is stunning and outrageous. AAUW pays close attention to judicial nominations because so many of our fundamental rights and liberties have been established and are protected by the federal courts, state and U.S. Supreme Court precedents, and executive-branch enforcement efforts. Not only do our courts need judges who will uphold our constitutional values of liberty, equality, and justice for all, they also need judges that reflect America’s diversity. This is the best way to ensure that the clock is not turned back on decades of progress for men and women of all races.

While the Senate’s advise-and-consent role in assessing judicial nominees is a fundamental part of our system of checks and balances and an important vehicle for preserving fair and balanced judicial and executive branches, the PFAW report reveals what looks like a pattern of discrimination against nominees who are women or people of color.

The Senate’s recent failure to confirm Professor Goodwin Liu, who was nominated to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, is a recent example. Liu, who is Taiwanese American, was accused on the Senate floor of wanting to turn America into “Communist-run China.” AAUW supported Liu’s nomination and was disappointed when the cloture vote on his nomination did not muster the 60 votes required to overcome that procedural hurdle, failing 52-43 on a near-party-line vote. Liu has since withdrawn his nomination.

The courts are extremely important to safeguarding Americans’ rights, and blocking only certain types of nominees seems to violate their rights to equal treatment. AAUW is extremely upset by the pattern of discrimination revealed by the PFAW report, and we will redouble our efforts to fight for the fair treatment of women and minority nominees. Our commitment to equity demands nothing less. To learn more about AAUW’s work on this issue, please visit our position page.

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It’s a sad day for D.C. and for public education all across the country. Earlier today, the House of Representatives passed a bill to continue the controversial D.C. school voucher scheme. This spells bad news for students in D.C., as study after study has proven that vouchers don’t work for students. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Education’s final report on the D.C. private school voucher pilot program confirmed again that there’s “no conclusive evidence” that the program improved student achievement overall, even for the high-priority group of students who applied from “schools in need of improvement.” Four federal studies — from the Bush and Obama administrations — have also shown vouchers don’t work.

By AgnosticPreachersKid (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsIf that weren’t enough, a 2007 Government Accountability Office study also found pervasive problems with the program: Tuition was paid to schools that don’t actually charge tuition; some schools weren’t accredited while others lacked occupancy permits; and some teachers didn’t have bachelor’s degrees. D.C. students deserve better.

The five-year pilot program expired years ago. It was finally supposed to be brought to a reasonable end through a compromise between Congress and President Obama last year, in which no new students would be added to the voucher rolls. In this phase-out of the failed program, all current voucher students will continue to receive a voucher until they graduate high school. AAUW urges Congress and the Obama administration to abide by this deal.

And if you think the voucher program imposed on the District won’t affect folks outside the Beltway, think again. Your tax dollars fund this voucher program. In addition, voucher advocates see the D.C. scheme as a pilot for nationwide implementation. We can only hope it won’t go that far. The bottom line is that vouchers fly in the face of our democracy’s commitment to public education; they siphon off scarce taxpayer funds for private or religious schools that selectively admit students.

This should be obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes. Unfortunately, vouchers are less about education and more about implementing a social agenda. Vouchers blur the separation of church and state and circumvent pesky civil rights laws (Title IX, anyone?), and they can do it because these schools aren’t responsible to the public or an elected school board and aren’t held to any accountability standards.

There’s no doubt that our country needs meaningful education reform, but vouchers are the wrong strategy. We must use precious tax dollars to improve and strengthen the public schools that serve 90 percent of our students.

To learn more about AAUW’s opposition to the D.C. voucher program, visit AAUW’s online newsroom.

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via Wikimedia under Creative Commons license by Keith EllisonWednesday, March 23 marked the one-year anniversary of when President Barack Obama signed the health care reform law, also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). Although it’s been a year since the law was formally adopted, it still faces challenges from different corners: The House of Representatives voted to bar federal funds for the law’s implementation, several court cases challenge ACA’s constitutionality, and some states have expressed their opposition to key parts of the reform, such as the individual mandate. Yet repealing or dramatically changing the law would have a significant effect on major parts of the law that have already kicked in and are improving the lives of people across the country.

Already, ACA does the following:

  • Ends most gender rating practices

“Gender rating” is the process by which insurance companies charge men and women different premiums for individually purchased health care plans. Women of various ages are often charged more than men, even when purchasing identical health care plans. Under ACA, gender rating will be banned in plans offered in both the individual and the small-group markets (defined as organizations employing 100 or fewer persons). You can learn more about gender rating in the Winter 2011 issue of AAUW Outlook magazine.

  • Requires coverage of women’s reproductive health services

AAUW played a key role in a coalition effort opposing House and Senate amendments that would have prohibited women receiving federal insurance subsidies from purchasing an insurance plan that includes abortion services — even though under the current system the majority of plans have covered abortion for years. Although ACA allows plans to cover abortion services, the new law unfortunately requires insurance companies that provide abortion coverage to collect two separate payments from women: one for the premium covering abortion care and one for the remainder of the coverage. Further, individual states may decide to exclude abortion coverage in their health insurance exchanges, and indeed many states have already done so. AAUW continues to work to protect women’s reproductive freedom and to oppose attempts to limit those rights.

  • Ensures access to and coverage of preventative services and care

The two leading causes of death for women in America by far are heart disease and cancer — afflictions that can often be prevented if women have access to preventative care services. Fortunately, the new law contains a specific women’s health provision under which insurance companies will be required to cover additional preventative health care and screenings for women — such as mammograms and pap smears — at no additional premium or co-payment cost.

  • Provides reasonable break time for nursing mothers

A little-noticed provision in ACA requires employers to provide “reasonable break time” for nursing mothers for up to a year after a child’s birth, creating a flexible environment in which new mothers can care for their children.

AAUW believes that everyone is entitled to health care that is high quality, affordable, and easily accessible, and we will continue to work for just that.

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