Policy & Practice


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Bill Would Compromise on Abortion

Members of Congress are seeking a compromise on government efforts to reduce abortions. A new bill (H.R. 3312) aims to decrease the number of abortions by preventing unintended pregnancies and providing assistance to women who become pregnant. Specifically, the bill would provide increased access to contraception for low-income women and new mothers, and would expand health coverage for pregnant women and children. It also calls for a national adoption campaign and would support students who are pregnant or are already parents. “With this legislation, we have found common ground on one of the most divisive debates in America,” Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), said in a statement. Rep. Ryan, one of the cosponsors of the bill, is a member of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. The other chief sponsor is Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a member of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. The bill also has support from nongovernment organizations on both sides of the abortion debate.

NARAL Supports Sotomayor

The Senate's confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the newest associate justice on the Supreme Court was praised because of her anticipated support of abortion rights. In a statement, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said the organization supported Judge Sotomayor's nomination because of her answers to questions on privacy rights as well as her backing from key abortion-rights supporters in the Senate. Nevertheless, in 2002 she sided with the Bush administration in a key reproductive rights case, Center for Reproductive Law and Policy v. Bush. She authored the decision to uphold the administration's prohibition of U.S. support for overseas family planning organizations that provided or advocated abortions. That policy, referred to as the “Mexico City policy” or the “global gag rule,” has since been overturned by the Obama administration.

Senate Confirms New NIH Chief

The Senate also recently confirmed another one of President Obama's nominees. Dr. Francis Collins, known for his leadership of the Human Genome Project, is the new director of the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Collins' research has resulted in the discovery of genes responsible for cystic fibrosis, neurofibromatosis, Huntington's disease, a familial endocrine cancer syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. He also wrote a best-selling book on the relationship between faith and science.

Medical Liability Reform

With all the talk about health care reform this year, little has been said about changing the medical liability system. But Doctors for Medical Liability Reform, a group of about 230,000 specialists and several medical organizations, is urging physicians to contact members of Congress with the message that real health care reform can only be achieved if it addresses medical liability. The group's online petition asserts that defensive medicine is driving up the cost of health care by billions of dollars annually and that frivolous lawsuits are forcing physicians out of practice across the country. The petition, available at

Family Insurance Tops $12K

Employer-sponsored insurance for a family of four in 2008 cost employers and workers an average of $12,298, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The employees' contribution averaged $3,394 for family-of-four plans and $882 for single workers, the agency reported. Employers paid the entire premium for 22% of workers with single-coverage plans, for 11% of workers with family-of-four plans, and for 9% of employees with one covered family member. About 31 million of the more than 62 million workers enrolled in employer-based insurance in 2008 had single plans, while 20 million had family-of-four coverage.

Information Tech Is Growing

The electronic exchange of health information among physicians, hospitals, health plans, and patients has increased substantially in the past year, the nonprofit group eHealth Initiative (eHI) found in its annual survey of 150 community-based “health information electronically” initiatives. Respondents reported a nearly 40% increase in the number of initiatives that were advanced enough to be exchanging information. According to eHI, these groups said that information technology is cutting redundant tests, avoiding some medication errors, and reducing staff time spent handling lab results and doing clerical tasks. The federal government is to spend at least $300 million on health information technology over the next 2 years as part of the economic stimulus of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. “We have a great opportunity to expand [health information technology] efforts with the new funding coming out in 2009 and 2010,” eHI chief operating officer Jennifer Covich said in a statement.

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