June 6, 2019

Congress Struggling to Move Legislation Related to Health Care and Human Rights

House passes omnibus package

This spring, the House of Representatives has made visible progress in moving urgently needed healthcare-related bills. On May 16, in a Congress passed a package of healthcare legislation called HR 987, the “Strengthening Health Care and Lowering Prescription Drug Costs Act.” It includes “three bipartisan drug pricing provisions restricting anti-competitive behaviors by pharmaceutical companies alongside a slate of proposals reversing Trump administration policies designed to undermine the Affordable Care Act,” according to Politico.

Although individual elements of the bill may be introduced in the Senate separately (see example following), whether and when the Senate votes on the whole package remains to be seen. Republicans hold 53 of the 100 seats in the Senate.

Senators Baldwin and Jones challenge Senate to ban Junk Insurance Plans 

On June 5, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) took the floor to call on her colleagues to pass the No Junk Plans Act” she introduced with Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL). This bill has passed in the House as part of the HR 987 package (see above).

If passed in the Senate, this bill will overturn the Administration’s active promotion of junk insurance plans – technically known as Short Term Limited Duration (STLD) insurance. These policies are sold cheaply because they do not include coverage for pre-existing conditions and, in many cases, fail to cover the costs of prescription medicines, pregnancy care and other essentials. People who sero-convert while insured by such plans can expect benefit limitations, especially with regard to ARV, high out-of-pocket costs and to be dropped as soon as the policy expires. (See Sept. 27, 2018 column for more on this.)

Last September, the Academy urged its California members to contact their Governor and urge him to sign legislation banning the sale of Junk Insurance Plans. Thanks to such citizen voices, the sale of these policies is now illegal in their state.

At the federal level, the No Junk Plans Act of 2019 is supported by the entire Senate Democratic caucus and several national organizations including our Academy, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Academy of Pediatrics, AIDS United, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Hemophilia Foundation, Families USA, and many others.

To find out if your Senators supports the “No Junk Plans Act”, you can call them at 202-224-3121, the Congressional Switchboard. It provides prompts to connect you with their offices.

House Challenges Senate to Extend Civil Rights to LGBTQ Population

On May 17, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act (HR 5) by a vote of 236 votes to 173. The bill proposes to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act by specifying that it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex including, “sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit and the Jury system.” Named S. 788 in the Senate, it is now waiting in their Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Meanwhile, last month the Supreme Court agreed to hear three cases that will test whether or not the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes workplace protection for LGBTQ citizens. The cases will be heard this fall and decisions are expected in June 2020 (at the height of the election season).

The Trump administration has already claimed that – while the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and sex – “sex” in this context cannot be interpreted to include sexual orientation or transgender status. Interestingly, this assertion contradicts that of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission – another part of the administration. The EEOC ruled in 2012 that, “sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee’s sex.”

View the latest Policy Update here.