July 29, 2014

State criticized over decision on contraceptive mandate

Representative Chris Taylor (File photo: WRN)

Representative Chris Taylor (File photo: WRN)

Advocates for access to birth control say Governor Scott Walker’s administration is improperly using a U.S. Supreme Court ruling as an excuse to not enforce aspects of a state law.

The state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance said this week it would stop enforcing portions of a 2009 state law that requires prescription drug plans to cover contraceptives, in the event an employer raises a religious objection. OCI claims it has no choice in the decision because of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in a case filed by Hobby Lobby, which argued the mandate to cover contraceptives included in the Affordable Care Act infringed on the company’s religious freedoms. The nation’s high court agreed that closely-held companies could not be forced to violate their religious beliefs by paying for the coverage.

State Representative Chris Taylor (D-Madison) argues the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case has no effect on Wisconsin’s law though. The Madison Democrat, a former official with Planned Parenthood, says “Hobby Lobby concerned the interpretation of federal law. It does not impact our state laws.” She says multiple legal experts have looked at the issue as well and have come to the same conclusion.

Taylor claims Governor Scott Walker is simply using the Hobby Lobby decision as an excuse to continue chipping away at the reproductive rights of women. “He had no authority to unilaterally decide that this administration is not going to enforce a law passed democratically through the Legislature.”

Taylor notes that the move comes after previous efforts by Walker to repeal the contraception requirement have failed in the Legislature.

UPDATE: This story was edited after publication to clarify the specific circumstances of OCI enforcement of the contraception mandate.

Another call for blood


(Jackie Johnson file photo)

(Jackie Johnson file photo)

The American Red Cross has an urgent need for blood and platelet donors of all types to help prevent a blood shortage and ensure an adequate blood supply.

According to the communications director at the American Red Cross, someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion every two seconds, and every day the Red Cross must collect 15,000 donations to meet the needs of patients.

Platelet donors and those with O-negative, B-negative, and A-negative blood types are especially needed. To schedule an appointment, call 1-800-Red-Cross or visit RedCrossBlood.org.

Court rulings cause confusion on ObamaCare subsidies

A pair of federal court rulings on Tuesday are causing some uncertainty over whether those buying insurance through federal health exchange will continue to qualify for subsidies.

In one case, an appeals court in the District of Columbia Circuit ruled the residents of 36 states that rely on the federal exchange do not qualify for subsidies. However, in a ruling in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals just hours later, judge said subsidies are available to all residents who qualify for them, regardless of whether an exchange is state-based or run by the federal government. Wisconsin is one of the three dozen states that uses the federal exchange.

A spokesperson for Governor Scott Walker called the D.C. ruling an example of “how irresponsible it is to pass a law without knowing what is in it and what its impact will be on hard-working Americans. The federal government’s one size fits all approach is unsustainable.”

While both cases are likely to face more appeals and the District of Columbia ruling did not include an injunction, Robert Kraig with Citizen Action of Wisconsin says now may be a good time for states like Wisconsin, which relies on the federal exchange, to revisit their decision. He says “a lot of people are depending on the subsides to make health care affordable,” and any decision to uphold the D.C. ruling could make it difficult for about 4.5 million people nationwide to continue paying for coverage. Kraig says Wisconsin already had a prototype for a state-based exchange developed, and it would “really behoove state officials to start looking at that, just in case.”

About 130,000 Wisconsin residents signed up for coverage through the federal exchange. Of those, Kraig says “many” are receiving some form of subsidy to help pay for their insurance, based on their incomes.

Federal judge dimisses Johnson lawsuit

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI)

A federal judge in Green Bay is throwing out a lawsuit against provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which was filed by U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI).

Johnson, a Wisconsin Republican, argued that an ObamaCare rule forced him to treat his staff differently. Judge William Griesbach ruled Monday that Johnson and his aide Brooke Ericson did not have legal grounds to file the lawsuit, because they did not prove they were hurt personally.

Johnson was challenging a requirement that lawmakers and their official staff members use the ObamaCare exchanges to get their tax-subsidized health insurance. Those who are not official office staff still get their previous employee health benefits.

Johnson argued the rule forced him to choose which staff members are official and which are not. He also claimed that he was being forced to take part in a program he believes is illegal, and he would look bad to voters because his staff would get tax subsidies the general public does not receive.

Griesbach says Johnson’s beliefs about the legality of ObamaCare are not enough to win his lawsuit; and neither was the claim that voters would see him in a negative light.

Johnson said it was unfortunate that the judge dropped his lawsuit on a technicality, without going into the legal merits of it. His office says Johnson is consulting with lawyers before deciding whether to appeal.

Court clarifies state law on abortion pills

A judge is providing more clarity on a 2012 state law that deals with prescribing medications that can cause an abortion.

Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin challenged the law that requires doctors to meet in-person with a patient when prescribing drugs designed to terminate a pregnancy. CEO Teri Huyck says they were worried it also required doctors to be present when women took the medication, which is a problem because they usually require two doses. Hyuck says “the law was so vague, we weren’t sure how to comply with it.” She says the group worried that could result in criminal penalties or fines for their doctors.

The law is aimed at preventing so-called webcam abortions, a practice where doctors prescribe the drugs from another location. Those were not being used in Wisconsin prior to the bill’s passage, but Republicans and pro-life groups worried the method of consultation could make its way here in the future.

A Dane County judge issued a decision Thursday clarifying the law only applies to when an abortion-inducing drug is prescribed, and that doctors do not have to be present when the medications are taken. Hyuck applauded the decision, saying “we now know that our physicians don’t have to worry about being sent to jail.”

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen was critical of Planned Parenthood for taking the issue to court, saying the judge’s decision affirmed what his office has said all along. In a statement, Van Hollen said “The decision is in accord with what the law is and what this office has always said the law is. No one ever tried to enforce the law differently. Planned Parenthood’s case was a frivolous action from the beginning, first in their dismissed federal case and now this case. Courts of law shouldn’t be stages for political theater funded by taxpayer dollars, but that’s the bill that Planned Parenthood has rung up.”