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Why Courts Matter to Women: Women's History Month

Posted by Cortelyou Kenney, Fellow | Posted on: March 31, 2014 at 09:36 am

Courts undeniably matter to women—for better or worse. Every day, they decide cases involving the right to have an abortion, to access contraception, to obtain affordable health care coverage, to equal protection under the law, and to fair treatment for women on the job. As March is women’s history month, it is an opportune moment to examine some pending and recent court cases that matter to women.

Two significant cases pending before the Supreme Court, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, deal with contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). This month, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding whether for-profit companies must comply with a portion of the ACA requiring that women receive health insurance coverage for birth control. The employers argue that they have a right under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to refuse to grant this coverage based on their religious objections to certain forms of birth control. In essence, they claim that corporations have the liberty to impose their religious beliefs on women and their families, denying women access to critical health care coverage and interfering with a woman’s right to make personal health care decisions for herself. Of course, a for-profit corporation is not a “person” capable of exercising religious beliefs, just as a corporation may not exercise other individual and personal rights such as the right against self-incrimination, and the birth control coverage requirement applies to the company, not to the individuals who own it. Further, even if a for-profit corporation could exercise religion, the birth control coverage requirement does not amount to a “substantial burden” on religious exercise—the standard the companies would need to prove—and including birth control in employee health plans furthers compelling government interests in advancing women’s health and equality and is the least restrictive means of so doing. The NWLC filed an amicus brief in support of the contraceptive coverage requirement in both cases.

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Think You Can't Afford Health Insurance? Think Again!

Posted by Susanna Birdsong, Fellow | Posted on: March 28, 2014 at 01:31 pm

Most people shopping for health insurance through the Obamacare Marketplace will be eligible for financial assistance—called the Premium Tax Credit—to help them cover the cost of insurance. We’re talking real help—the average amount of financial assistance per family is estimated to be $5,290. Time is running out to sign up this year—the deadline to get started is next Monday, March 31! Read on to get answers to some commonly asked questions about the Premium Tax Credit—and then dash on over to or call (800) 318-2596 and get started on your application today!

Am I eligible? 

There are three basic eligibility requirements for the Premium Tax Credit:

  1. Your income must be between 100%-400% of the federal poverty line (for a family of four, that’s an income between $23,550 and $94,200).
  2. You must buy health insurance through the Marketplace (sometimes called Exchange)—either by visiting or calling (800) 318-2596. 
  3. To receive the Premium Tax Credit, you can’t be eligible for other health insurance coverage—either through another government program like Medicaid or Medicare, or through your employer.
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Virginia Lawmakers Must Act Now and Cover More People in Medicaid

Posted by Anna Benyo, Senior Health Policy Analyst | Posted on: March 28, 2014 at 10:23 am

Each week, my colleague Stephanie Glover and I take a short trip to Arlington to volunteer as Certified Application Counselors (CACs). We talk to Virginians about the health coverage options available under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and help them enroll in an affordable comprehensive insurance plan. It is very exciting to meet new clients each week—all of whom are uninsured—who are eager to learn about their options and obtain coverage.

The best part of the experience is enrolling a previously uninsured family into health insurance that meets their needs and fits their budget. Clients leave the office happy and incredibly thankful to the volunteers. The worst part of this experience is telling clients that, unfortunately, they are not eligible to enroll today. I try to explain they are not eligible to enroll in a private plan because their income is below the poverty level which means they do not qualify for federal subsidies and yet they earn too much income (or fail to meet other eligibility criteria) to qualify for Virginia’s current Medicaid program.

Because Virginia is one of 26 states that have not taken federal funding to cover more people in Medicaid, hundreds of thousands of residents fall into this “coverage gap.” Most clients are confused and do not understand why they cannot enroll—they have all of their tax paperwork and other documentation with them, and are ready to complete the process. They leave the office frustrated and disappointed. Some ask what they should do in the meantime. Others say they will check with the Medicaid office in the summer to see if anything has changed.

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Connecticut Poised to Make History with $10.10 Minimum Wage

Posted by Emily Wales, Fellow | Posted on: March 27, 2014 at 02:06 pm

Why wait?

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy made it clear last month that he thought it was time to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 – and he wasn’t interested in waiting for Congress to do it. Malloy pushed for Connecticut state legislators to pass a statewide increase, and now they’re poised to make history. The Senate and the House voted yesterday to approve a bill (SB-32) to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017, and Malloy has announced he’ll sign the bill today.

It’s a very good day to be a Nutmeg-er. (Connectican? Connecticut-er?)

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Women's History Month 2014: Celebrating the Nameless, the Faceless, the Invisible

Posted by Yumhee Park, Program Assistant | Posted on: March 27, 2014 at 11:55 am

Cross-posted from YWCA.

Which of these is not like the other?

Amelia Earhart, aviator. Virginia Woolf, novelist. Frida Kahlo, artist. Kim Gun-ja, comfort woman.

While the first three women have been recognized for their achievements, often times, women like Kim Gun-ja are left to fade as sad stories of women who have been subject to patriarchal violence. But why should their story and voice be any less important and recognized while we celebrate Women’s History Month? March marks Women’s History Month and the theme is a celebration of women of character, courage, and commitment. Many times, we are eager to recognize those who have achieved major milestones for women, but leave reports or stories of survivors of indescribable violence to find their place in posts dedicated to sympathies. Women survivors of violence deserve recognition and their heartbreaking stories should serve as a reminder that these are crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, instead of being recognized, some such victims are being systematically forgotten.

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The Supreme Court Hears Arguments in the Contraceptive Coverage Cases: Are the Employees’ Voices and Health Needs Being Heard?

Cross-posted from Alliance for Justice.

The companies seeking to deny women access to a benefit guaranteed under the health care law—coverage of all FDA-approved methods of birth control and related education and counseling without cost-sharing—made some questionable claims yesterday before the Supreme Court. Two in particular are worth exploring, especially since they’ve gotten short shrift in the post-argument analysis.

The first troubling argument was that the government does not have as compelling an interest in requiring insurance coverage for birth control as compared to other health care services. Paul Clement (the lawyer representing the companies) framed his opening by talking about how “religiously sensitive” it is to require birth control coverage. Justices Sotomayor and Kagan questioned this notion, asking how far an exemption for companies with religious objections would go. What about an owner who has religious objections to vaccinations or blood transfusions? Are those “religiously sensitive”? Should a boss be able to deny employees coverage of those health care services because of a religious belief? Clement responded that this case is “easier than” those cases because birth control is “so religiously sensitive, so fraught with religious controversy” and the government may have a “stronger compelling interest [in those cases] than it does” in this case.

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Health Insurance — A Rite of Spring for 2014

Posted by Karen Davenport, Director of Health Policy | Posted on: March 27, 2014 at 09:08 am

The start of spring brings some seasonal maternal responsibilities. My daughter is six, so these tasks include finding the shin guards and cleats that she dumped in a closet after the last soccer game last fall – ideally before the first spring soccer game, not after. Determining if she has outgrown all, or only half, of her warmer-weather clothes. Helping her finally ride her bike with confidence, and without training wheels.

I expect that as kids get older, these springtime responsibilities might change a bit. Maybe I will need to nudge her to keep working on a year-end project or to practice before the spring piano recital. Or to use some caution and common sense during a spring break trip to the beach.

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My Health Is Not Your Hobby

Posted by Megan Tackney, Outreach Manager for Health and Reproductive Rights | Posted on: March 26, 2014 at 04:04 pm

This was just one of the many witty slogans held high on posters at the snow-covered rally at the Supreme Court yesterday. Nearly a thousand supporters came out to tell America that women should be able to make their own decisions about birth control – not their bosses.

As I looked at all those women (and men) standing in the freezing cold, soaking wet but still rallying for hours I couldn’t help but think of the women who weren’t there, who believed it wasn’t safe to speak out themselves -- and I was about to speak for one of them. That, and the fact that it was actually snowing in late March in Washington, DC, may end up being the two things that I’ll most remember about the day.

Inside the Court, Justices were hearing arguments on two cases, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, brought by for-profit companies that claim that because of their owners’ religious beliefs they should be allowed to break the law and deny their female employees birth control coverage.

Basically, even though 99% of sexually active women have used birth control, and we finally got a law that guarantees women affordable birth control, a bunch of corporations actually went to the Supreme Court because they want to control women’s health care decisions under the guise of free exercise of religion.

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