Posts Tagged ‘Kathleen Sebelius’

A Second Wave Attack on Women’s Health

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

By Susan RosSusan_Rosee
Special to Calbuzz

The official word from the federally funded U.S. Preventive Services Task Force —  that most women don’t need mammograms until the age of 50 — generated passionate responses from women, medical associations and advocacy organizations.

The task force, a panel of physicians, also recommended against teaching women to do breast self- examinations. For good measure, a new recommendation to limit the frequency of Pap Smear Tests further added to the confusion about women’s health care protocols.

The timing could not have been worse for the White House, as the Administration struggles to pass health care reform.

Following closely the House passage of the disastrous anti-abortion Stupak Amendment, the new controversy has outraged many women’s organizations, leaving the uneasy Democratic coalition in Congress shakier than ever.

Why are all these attacks against standard women’s medical health practices coming now? Is it time to trust my paranoia? Is this directly connected to health insurance reform? The debate over saving money in health care suddenly seems to be tilting in favor of cutting services that serve women and save their lives.

Expressions of opposition to the new recommendations were widespread,USREPORT-US-USA-HEALTHCARE as leaders like Nancy Brinker, founder of the Susan Komen Foundation, and influential women’s health author Dr. Judith Reichman pushed back at the task force report. Even the Obama administration backed away from the recommendations, leaving Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to state that  “our policies remain the same.” Perhaps most important, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists confirmed their continuing support for the practices of screening mammograms for women from the ages of 40 to 49, as well as self-exams that can detect palpable breast cancer.

In their defense, the task force qualified their findings, saying they should be applied by “individualized decision making to the specific patient or situation” and advising the recommendations do not apply to high-risk women.

Good. That will work for my two 40-something daughters because they have a family history of breast cancer.

My story is no different than the many I have heard and the thousands repeated around the country. I was 47 years old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had been examined by my gynecologist who missed the lump. A few weeks later I found it myself while doing a breast self-exam (BSE). The tumor was very small and I proceeded with the recommended treatments. This year I celebrated my 20th anniversary as a breast cancer survivor.

But two years after the first diagnosis, a Pap Smear revealed another cancer site unrelated to the first. It was found early, and required no additional treatment. The BSE and the Pap Smear are tests I continue to use to this day.

The task force’s recommendations have major implications for insurance coverage. As the Senate begins its debate on health care reform, ongoing analysis of the Stupak Amendment makes it clear that women may well lose all opportunities for abortions covered by insurance, because there will be little incentive for companies to provide these services. With formal recommendations from a federal task force now calling for limits on screening mammograms, why should insurers continue providing coverage for these services either?

breastcancerribbonWomen have long been second class citizens in the history of medicine, ignored or treated differently than men. For many years, research on heart attacks was done on exclusively on men and the results then applied to women. Now scientists are looking at numbers of breast cancer diagnoses and deciding whether to provide women with preventive medical treatment. At what threshold are women worth being treated? We have moved from not being counted at all to being viewed only as statistics.

Scientific research and evaluation are important and the cost of health care needs to be managed, but there must be a way to do both without denying women basic medical services.

Advocates for the task force recommendations argue that they are about evidence- based medicine, and we should not mix science and politics. Perhaps, when gender equity is truly reflected in Congressional representation, we won’t have to fight these battles. Until then, we cannot separate out politics from science.

Susan Rose served 8 years on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and writes regularly about women’s issues for Calbuzz.

3 Ways Obama Is Blowing It on Health Care Reform

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

ObamaHealthCareThere’s one simple reason why the White House has rushed so aggressively to try to knock down the story that Barack Obama is backing away from his support of a public option for health care: if he does retreat on the issue, he risks trashing the political viability of his entire presidency.

Over the weekend, both Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, made weasly comments about the administration’s commitment to a public option policy that led even some of the president’s staunchest supporters to denounce his waffling.

Having raised the specter of ignominious political surrender himself, Obama sent press secretary Roberts Gibbs into the White House briefing room to – wait for it – blame the media – for manufacturing a story. He insisted that the president’s position has not changed on the most crucial issue in the reform debate, namely to provide a system of medical care for the uninsured and underinsured as an affordable alternative to the private insurance industry.

The public option flap is just the latest evidence of how  Obama and his posse, after running one of the most consistent and effective campaigns in history, have badly botched the communications strategy and framing tactics in the battle over a defining issue of his presidency, undercutting in the process fundamental elements of the message of change that got him elected.

Beyond a shameful retreat on a substantive policy matter, hoisting the white flag on a public option would put Obama at odds with the congressional leaders and liberals who have been his most enthusiastic supporters and, more broadly, signal weakness and failure in fulfilling three of the basic premises of his message of change:

healthcarefistSpecial interests – As a candidate, Obama vowed to fight powerful and entrenched interest groups whose influence and money routinely cripple reform and determine the fate of legislation in Washington. Just eight months into his term, Obama is causing concern among allies who back the public option (as a less attractive alternative to their true preference for a single payer health care system) that he is preparing to cave in to insurance companies, after earlier cutting a deal with the pharmaceutical industry, another Beltway blue chip special interest.

New politics – While often ill-defined, Obama’s “yes we can” campaign message had two fundamental carrot and stick elements: a goody-two-shoes call for the bipartisan putting aside of status-quo politics and ideological polarization, coupled with a strong, clear and consistent attack on failed Republican economic policies that worshiped markets and business interests. In the political fight of his life, Obama has been putting his energy and emphasis almost exclusively on the can’t-we-all-just-get along aspect of his message, in a desperate bid to pass a bill – any bill – that he can spin as an alleged victory, even if represents right-center policies and politics.

With Democrats in the rare position of controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, however, he needs to stop singing kumbaya and start busting some heads by fighting fiercely for the populist – and, yes, partisan – principles that led millions to support the progressive promises of his campaign. And that means taking on, not just the other party, but some of the obstructionist Senators in his own party like Kent Conrad and Max Baucus, a couple of self-important narcissists who each represent a  no-account state with about 12 people that Obama’s never going to win anyway.

Authenticity – Candidate Obama decried sound bite politics, repeatedly vowing he would tell Americans the truth, even if it was unpleasant, contrasting the integrity of his outsider stance with the Beltway insider images of rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Now, instead of giving hell to the special interests and right-wingers in Congress, President Obama too often passively abides their lies and demagoguery while resorting to Clintonian hair-splitting and legalisms in trying to finesse his position on the public option.

If he succumbs on this issue, the disillusionment and dismay among his own supporters that would accompany a retreat could not only fatally weaken him on Capitol Hill, but also put the issue of his re-election very much in play.

And if there’s any question that Obama himself – and not the media – set off the firestorm on public option, check out Jon Stewart’s take, characteristically complete with the most telling video clips.

Health reform resuscitations: Nate Silver has a smart post on a post-public option political landscape while Victoria Colliver of the Chronicle has a good Q&A primer on health care reform here and the Times offers a useful glossary for following the debate here.