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Republicans, Democrats Fight to Strengthen US Health Care Law

That went against the administration's earlier position that while some parts of the ACA should be struck down, not all of it should be thrown out

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FILE - The Dome of the US Capitol building is visible on the morning of the State of the Union, Feb. 5, 2019. VOA

Health care has re-emerged as a major focus of U.S. political parties with the Trump administration advocating striking down the entire Affordable Care Act and Democrats introducing legislation to strengthen the law that has been in place since 2010.

The Justice Department on Monday backed a federal court ruling declaring the entire ACA unconstitutional on the basis that without the fines for not having health insurance, which a Republican-led Congress passed last year, the mandate for having coverage should not be allowed.

That went against the administration’s earlier position that while some parts of the ACA should be struck down, not all of it should be thrown out.

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FILE – People wait in line outside the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the orders being issued, in Washington, U.S. March 18, 2019. VOA

Trump told reporters Tuesday he wanted alternatives to the law, which was one of the chief policies enacted under his predecessor Barack Obama.

“The Republican Party will become ‘The Party of Healthcare!'” he wrote on Twitter.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer signaled his party is happy to take on the issue, especially following the end of the special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump’s campaign. Schumer said issues such as healthcare and climate change are much more important to voters.

The issue was a key part of the party’s 2018 congressional election strategy, which put Democrats back in control of the House of Representatives.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, walks to a Democratic Caucus meeting at the Capitol in Washington, March 26, 2019. VOA

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled Democratic proposals she says would improve upon the existing law, while accusing Republicans of working only to “destroy the affordable health care of America’s families.”

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The legislation would seek to make health insurance plans more affordable by boosting subsidies to lower-income households, provide more protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and boost outreach and enrollment efforts to help people better understand what insurance options exist for them.

The legal battle over the existing law could end up at the Supreme Court, which previously upheld the individual mandate with its financial penalties as a legal tax Congress was allowed to impose. The five justices in the majority on that case remain on the court. (VOA)

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Trump: Taxpayer-Funded Family Planning Clinics Must Stop Referring Women for Abortions Immediately

Ahead of a planned conference Tuesday with the clinics, the Health and Human Services Department formally notified them

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FILE - A Planned Parenthood clinic is seen June 4, 2019, in St. Louis. A Missouri commissioner on June 28, 2019, ruled that the state's only abortion clinic can continue providing the service at least until August as a fight over its license plays out. VOA

Taxpayer-funded family planning clinics must stop referring women for abortions immediately, the Trump administration said Monday, declaring it will begin enforcing a new regulation hailed by religious conservatives and denounced by medical organizations and women’s rights groups.

The head of a national umbrella group representing the clinics said the administration is following “an ideological agenda” that could disrupt basic health care for many low-income women.

Ahead of a planned conference Tuesday with the clinics, the Health and Human Services Department formally notified them that it will begin enforcing the ban on abortion referrals, along with a requirement that clinics maintain separate finances from facilities that provide abortions. Another requirement that both kinds of facilities cannot be under the same roof would take effect next year.

The rule is widely seen as a blow against Planned Parenthood, which provides taxpayer-funded family planning and basic health care to low-income women, as well as abortions that must be paid for separately. The organization is a mainstay of the federally funded family planning program and it has threatened to quit over the issue.

Trump, Family, Abortion
Taxpayer-funded family planning clinics must stop referring women for abortions immediately. Pixabay

Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen said in a statement that “our doors are still open” as her organization and other groups seek to overturn the regulations in federal court. “We will not stop fighting for all those across the country in need of essential care,” Wen said.

HHS said no judicial orders currently prevent it from enforcing the rule while the litigation proceeds.

Clare Coleman, president of the umbrella group National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, said “the administration’s actions show its intent is to further an ideological agenda.”

Abortion opponents welcomed the administration’s move. “Ending the connection between abortion and family planning is a victory for common-sense health care,” Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life, said in a statement.

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Known as Title X, the family-planning program serves about 4 million women annually through independent clinics, many operated by Planned Parenthood affiliates, which serve about 40 percent of all clients. The program provides about $260 million a year in grants to clinics.

The family planning rule is part of a series of Trump administration efforts to remake government policy on reproductive health.

Other regulations tangled up in court would allow employers to opt out of offering free birth control to women workers on the basis of religious or moral objections, and grant health care professionals wider leeway to opt out of procedures that offend their religious or moral scruples.

Abortion is a legal medical procedure, but federal laws prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the woman.

Trump, Family, Abortion
The head of a national umbrella group representing the clinics said the administration is following “an ideological agenda” that could disrupt basic health care. Pixabay

Under the administration’s rule, clinic staff would still be permitted to discuss abortion with clients, along with other options. However, that would no longer be required.

The American Medical Association is among the professional groups opposed to the administration’s policy, saying it could affect low-income women’s access to basic medical care, including birth control, cancer screenings and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. By law, the family planning program does not pay for abortions.

Religious conservatives see the regulation as a means to end what they call an indirect taxpayer subsidy of abortion providers.

Although abortion remains politically divisive, the U.S. abortion rate has dropped significantly, from about 29 per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 1980 to about 15 in 2014. Better contraception, fewer unintended pregnancies and state restrictions may have played a role, according to a recent scientific report. Polls show most Americans do not want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.

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The Trump administration’s policy echoes a Reagan-era regulation that barred clinics from even discussing abortion with women. It never went into effect as written, although the Supreme Court ruled it was appropriate.

The policy was rescinded under President Bill Clinton, and a new rule took effect requiring “nondirective” counseling to include a full range of options for women. The Trump administration is now rolling back the Clinton requirement. (VOA)