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Image: FILE PHOTO: The Pill Turns 50: A Look Back At Contraception

Contraception changes lead to big savings

07/08/15 09:18AM

It wasn't expected to be overly controversial, but the Affordable Care Act guarantees Americans' access to preventive care without a copay. In practical terms, it means millions of women now have access to birth control at effectively no cost, much to the consternation of Republicans who remain fiercely opposed to the policy,
 
There's been quite a bit of coverage about the public-health benefits of the ACA provision, but the New York Times reported late yesterday on an even more obvious shift: a lot of Americans are saving a lot of money.
Out-of-pocket spending on most major birth control methods fell sharply in the months after the Affordable Care Act began requiring insurance plans to cover contraception at no cost to women, a new study has found. Spending on the pill, the most popular form of prescription birth control, dropped by about half in the first six months of 2013, compared with the same period in 2012, before the mandate took effect.
 
The study, by health economists from the University of Pennsylvania, analyzed health insurance claims from a large private insurer with business in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It evaluated the effect of the Affordable Care Act, the biggest piece of social legislation in decades, on women's pocketbooks. It estimated that savings from the pill alone were about $1.4 billion in 2013.
For consumers, many of whom wanted contraception but couldn't afford it, $1.4 billion in savings is a substantial figure. What's more, that total is from 2013, which means the savings are likely even greater now.
 
I should note that the NYT report added, "The study, published online in Health Affairs on Tuesday, was not able to definitively establish whether the law drove women's falling expenditures on birth control, but experts said the magnitude and timing of the decline suggested that it was."
 
No kidding. Scholars may struggle with proving causation, but unless someone's prepared to argue that the sharp drop in spending is an amazing coincidence, it seems like a safe bet that the Affordable Care Act is driving the results.
 
There is, however, one lingering question: given the ACA's requirements, shouldn't contraception spending fall to effectively nothing?
Storm clouds gather as pro-confederate flag demonstrators gather outside the S.C. State House in Columbia, S.C. on June 27, 2015. (Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

One step forward, one step back on Confederate symbols

07/08/15 08:41AM

In South Carolina, the Republican-led state Senate easily approved a proposal yesterday to remove the Confederate battle flag from its Capitol grounds, sending the bill to the state House for a more contentious debate. Proponents of the South Carolina moving forward are, however, cautiously optimistic.
 
But while the nation keeps an eye on developments in Columbia, S.C., where a Confederate flag is likely to come down, a county in Florida is moving in the exact opposite direction. Several MaddowBlog readers noted this Orlando Sentinel report overnight.
The Marion County Commission voted Tuesday unanimously to again fly the Confederate flag in front of a government building, weeks after it had been taken down.
 
The interim county administrator had removed the flag at the McPherson Governmental Complex in Ocala, joining other communities across the South and nationwide that took down or reconsidered Confederate symbols after the June 17 killing of nine black people at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.... The Ocala Star-Banner reports that several citizens spoke in favor of restoring the flag.
For those unfamiliar with Florida geography, the state has a counter-intuitive political landscape. In most of the U.S., the further north you go, the less conservative the politics become. In the Sunshine State, it's largely the opposite -- Democrats tend to compete well in South Florida, but as you head north, the state becomes far more conservative.
 
Marion County is about 80 miles north of Orlando.
Governor Scott Walker (R-WS) speaks to Republican organizing meeting in Concord, N.H., March 14, 2015. (Photo by Dominick Reuter/Reuters)

Walker's office tied to open-records controversy

07/08/15 08:03AM

The front-page, above-the-fold headline in today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel probably won't make Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) happy. "Walker office admits role in open records proposal," it reads.
 
At issue is a controversy we covered on Monday. To briefly recap, last Thursday, shortly before the start of a holiday weekend and in a late-night session, Republican state legislators quietly added a provision to the budget to gut Wisconsin's open-records laws. The point wasn't subtle: the policy would have "dramatically curtailed the kind of information available to the public about the work that public officials do."
 
GOP lawmakers approved the change, but when reporters noticed, they quickly backpedaled -- not only was the proposal soon dropped, but the Republicans involved each denied having anything to do with it.
 
Of course, it wasn't a miraculous budget provision, appearing by magic; someone had to put it there. And so, we had a mystery -- who tried to gut Wisconsin's open-records law and why?
 
Before anyone dismisses this as a story of little interest outside the Badger State itself, there's a reason national outlets are keeping an eye on this one. Indeed, the Wisconsin State Journal reported overnight:
Gov. Scott Walker's office was involved in drafting dramatic changes to the state's open records law that would have made it harder for the public to monitor how its government works, a spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.
 
Spokeswoman Laurel Patrick's statement came after numerous inquiries from the State Journal in recent days and after Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said Tuesday that Walker's office collaborated with Assembly and Senate leaders to draft the changes.
In a press statement, the governor's spokesperson said, "Our intent with these changes was to encourage a deliberative process with state agencies in developing policy and legislation. This allows for robust debate with state agencies and public employees over the merit of policies and proposed initiatives as they are being formed, while ensuring materials related to final proposals, as well as information related to external stakeholders seeking to influence public policy, would remain fully transparent."

Relic room and other headlines

07/08/15 08:02AM

Ahead of today's vote about removing the Confederate flag, SC House members tour its likely new home. (The State)

Republicans target Obama's policies with spending bills. (New York Times)

Tennessee death row inmates challenge execution method. (AP)

The latest on Greece's debt problem. (BBC)

Iran talks enter rough slog, most foreign ministers leave. (AP)

Biden to hail gay marriage in NYC appearance. (AP)

read more

Tuesday's Mini-Report, 7.7.15

07/07/15 05:30PM

Today's edition of quick hits:
 
* Greece: "Greece's prospects for staying in Europe's currency union darkened on Tuesday after the new Greek finance minister showed up for an emergency meeting in Brussels without a specific new proposal, leaving European finance ministers aghast and unable to judge whether a deal for another bailout package was possible."
 
* In South Carolina, it's one chamber down, one to go: "The Senate voted 36-3 on the removal of the Confederate battle flag, sending the bill to the House for first reading, all while protesters continued to gather outside of the Statehouse."
 
* A deadly accident: "Two people were killed aboard a small private plane after it collided in midair with an Air Force F-16 fighter jet Tuesday morning over South Carolina, federal safety officials told The Associated Press."
 
* Cosby: "The prosecutor who investigated allegations that Bill Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted Andrea Constand in 2004 says he is not surprised by new revelations that the embattled comedian admitted to acquiring sedatives to use on women. But Bruce Castor, the former district attorney for Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, believes the deposition released on Monday could support criminal perjury charges against Cosby."
 
* Encouraging economic news: "The number of job openings in the U.S. was little changed in May, remaining at its highest level on record, the Labor Department said Tuesday. Job openings ticked up slightly to 5.36 million in May, from a revised reading of 5.33 million the previous month.."
 
* An alarming increase: "Heroin use has dramatically increased across the U.S., spreading to groups it hadn't previously reached, and deaths from overdose have soared, according to a new federal report released Tuesday. Heroin deaths nearly quadrupled in the decade between 2002 and 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports."
 
* A bad idea quickly dies: "Senate Republicans appear unlikely to use the funding process to block President Obama's plan to open a U.S. Embassy in Cuba this month, despite initial vows to prevent the landmark policy change."
Pedestrians walk by a CVS store in San Francisco, Calif., Nov. 5, 2013.

CVS walks away from Chamber of Commerce

07/07/15 05:03PM

Early last year, CVS announced unexpectedly that its stores will no longer sell tobacco products. President Obama took note, applauding the company for setting "a powerful example" that will help "reduce tobacco-related deaths, cancer, and heart disease, as well as bring down health care costs."
 
By September, CVS followed through, letting the public know it had met its goal one month early.
 
Today, the drugstore chain took yet another striking step along the same lines. The New York Times reported:
The CVS Health Corporation said Tuesday that it was resigning from the United States Chamber of Commerce after revelations that the chamber and its foreign affiliates were undertaking a global lobbying campaign against antismoking laws.
 
"We were surprised to read recent press reports concerning the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's position on tobacco products outside the United States," David R. Palombi, a senior vice president at the company, said in a statement. "CVS Health's purpose is to help people on their path to better health, and we fundamentally believe tobacco use is in direct conflict with this purpose."
CVS's announcement follows last week's NYT reporting on the business lobby investing heavily in overseas efforts to combat smoking restrictions, despite the health care companies that serve on the Chamber's board.
 
The World Health Organization quickly condemned the Chamber's efforts. Around the same time, several Democratic U.S. senators called the Chamber's international tobacco lobbying "craven and unconscionable," adding that "member companies should be concerned that their good name is sullied in efforts to strike down public health protections worldwide."
 
It appears CVS noticed and reacted exactly as the senators suggested.
Textbooks, which are assigned and shared, in a classroom at Hutto High School in Hutto, Texas.

Be wary of Texas' lessons on social studies

07/07/15 04:12PM

We've known for some time that Texas' new social-studies textbooks would likely represent a step backwards. MSNBC's Zack Roth reported last fall on proposals to place books in public-school classrooms that blurred the line between history and "tea party manifestos."
 
"Don't blame the textbook writers -- including several major publishing houses -- for the right-wing political slant," Roth explained. "They were written to conform to standards approved in 2010 by the state Board of Education, after an organized conservative campaign to take over the board."
 
As a conservative Christian minister who helped push the standards through said in 2010, "We're in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it."
 
With this backstory in mind, I suppose no one should have been too surprised by this discouraging Washington Post report yesterday.
Five million public school students in Texas will begin using new social studies textbooks this fall based on state academic standards that barely address racial segregation. The state's guidelines for teaching American history also do not mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws.
 
And when it comes to the Civil War, children are supposed to learn that the conflict was caused by "sectionalism, states' rights and slavery" -- written deliberately in that order to telegraph slavery's secondary role in driving the conflict, according to some members of the state board of education.
To be sure, these are not the only areas of concern in Texas' textbooks.
 
But with much of the country thinking anew about official support for the Confederate battle flag, the changes in Texas classrooms hardly represent an academic improvement.
Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, left, looks on as Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, speaks during a news conference on Sept. 27, 2013. (Photo by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty)

Ted Cruz's unique spin on the 11th Commandment

07/07/15 12:40PM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been one of Donald Trump's most vocal defenders in recent weeks, at least among the Republican presidential candidates, but of particular interest is how the Texas senator has made his argument. Consider, for example, what Cruz told NBC's Chuck Todd the other day on "Meet the Press."
"I like Donald Trump. He's bold, he's brash. And I get it that it seems the favorite sport of the Washington media is to encourage some Republicans to attack other Republicans. I'm not going to do it. I'm not interested in Republican-on-Republican violence. [...]
 
"He has a colorful way of speaking. It is not the way I speak. But I'm not going to engage in the media game of throwing rocks and attacking other Republicans. I'm just not going to do it."
During a Fox News interview yesterday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) made clear how unimpressed he was with Cruz's rhetoric. "I find it ironic that Ted Cruz is giving lectures on Republican-on-Republican violence," the governor said. "The guy who put together a group that was sponsoring primary ads against Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is giving us -- the rest of us lectures on Republican on Republican violence. With all due respect, I don't need to be lectured by Ted Cruz."
 
He added, "Let's just not be hypocritical. Don't lecture as to Donald Trump but then attack Lamar Alexander. All I want is a little consistency."
 
Christie raises a fair point. The Senate Conservatives Fund, which Cruz has supported, is committed to electing the most far-right candidates possible to the Senate, and in some cases, that's meant backing primary challenges to incumbent GOP senators.
 
In fact, Christie's comments cast an important light on Cruz's posture. If the Texas Republican simply had a blanket, no-exceptions policy against criticizing all Republicans in all instances -- deferring to Reagan's "11th Commandment" -- his reluctance to criticize Trump's anti-Mexican rhetoric would at least hold true to some kind of principle.
 
But Cruz's aversion to "Republican-on-Republican violence" is surprisingly selective.

Tuesday's Campaign Round-Up, 7.7.15

07/07/15 12:00PM

Today's installment of campaign-related news items that won't necessarily generate a post of their own, but may be of interest to political observers:
 
* Some Democrats in the New Jersey legislature are so annoyed by Gov. Chris Christie's (R) absences that they're working on a controversial new bill. The plan would require any Garden State governor who runs for president to step down from their office.
 
* Marco Rubio hasn't yet announced his second-quarter fundraising numbers, but a tax-exempt group allied with the Florida Republican has already raised $15.8 million for the election cycle. The group, the Conservative Solutions Project, is already playing in a legally complex area -- it shares a name and some staff with Rubio's super PAC, but the tax-exempt entity can keep all of its donors hidden.
 
* If Carly Fiorina hoped her quarterly fundraising numbers would make her Republican presidential campaign seem more serious, she's probably disappointed right now. The former HP executive has raised about $1.4 million since launching her longshot bid two months ago.
 
* Ted Cruz and Glenn Beck agreed yesterday that the United States is facing "destruction." The host added, "So if we don't correct it now, we're done," to which the Republican presidential hopeful responded, "It is now or never." Good to know.
 
* Donald Trump apparently has a super PAC, called the Make America Great Again PAC, though its existence is limited at this point to a post-office box.
 
* Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's (R) presidential campaign isn't well positioned, at least not yet, but his super PAC hopes to give him a boost with a $700,000 investment in Iowa TV time. The ad campaign will stretch from July 13 to August 2.
U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on March 19, 2015.

Boehner fibs again on immigration reform?

07/07/15 11:20AM

Exactly two years ago yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made a specific, public vow on the issue of immigration reform: "It is time for Congress to act.... I believe the House has its job to do, and we will do our job."
 
Whether Boehner knew this at the time or not is unclear, but the Speaker's promise was hollow. The Republican leader first ignored the popular, bipartisan reform bill approved by the Senate and endorsed by business leaders, unions, the faith community, law enforcement, and reform advocates, and he then ignored his own stated commitment. The GOP-led House never even held so much as a hearing about a reform bill.
 
On the contrary, the only action Boehner was willing to take on immigration was threatening to cut off funding for the Department of Homeland Security -- a threat that turned out to be about as serious as his promise that GOP members would "do our job."
 
But two years later, the Ohio Republican is saying something slightly different. Boehner was in Dublin late last week, addressing the Independence Day lunch of the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland. The Irish Times published this piece with a headline that read, "John Boehner pledge: Immigration reform top of agenda."
The speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner has told a Dublin audience of his determination to overcome Republican resistance to immigration reform. [...]
 
His remarks indicate he may yet move to confront opponents of reform within his own Republican party, which is in the vanguard of resistance to it and has a majority in the House.
Now, I haven't been able to track down a video of the Speaker's remarks, so it's hard to say with confidence exactly what Boehner said, but this report clearly suggests the Republican leader told his audience that he remains supportive of tackling immigration reform.
 
In other words, Boehner isn't just misleading American audiences on the issue; he's begun fibbing to foreign audiences, too.

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