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Martha Burk

Martha Burk

Posted: December 11, 2008 03:19 PM

W's Parting Gifts to Women


It's gift-giving time again, and our President is sure in the spirit -- of the Grinch, that is. Good old George W. is being particularly nasty to women in this season of good will. He's giving the women of the country some new regulations that will keep on giving us trouble for years to come. It's not new that outgoing Presidents try to change national policy at the last minute through rule changes at the various cabinet departments that don't have to go through Congress. But W is set to set a record.

Knowing that the country is not inclined to support new laws against abortion because a clear majority of women (and men) are pro-choice and value their medical privacy, the Prez has decided to curb our rights through deputizing health workers as watchdogs. Under the guise of "anti-discrimination" against the anti-choice beliefs of employees at medical facilities, Health and Human Services has crafted a sneaky new rule that allows any worker in a medical facility to deny a rape victim access to emergency contraception if that worker does not believe in contraception.

What's more, these self-selected gatekeepers to our choices can also remain mum about nearby hospitals that might be more inclined to offer this common medical treatment that is accepted, legal, and safe. Never mind that the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, 28 senators, more than 110 representatives and the attorneys general of 13 states have urged the Bush administration to withdraw the proposed rule -- it's the thought that counts.

Gift number two -- taking effect just four days before W leaves office -- is a weakening of our already very weak Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) laws. Shamefully, we're the only industrialized country on the planet without some kind of paid pregnancy leave or paid family leave -- though workers at large companies can take unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks if they can afford it.

With the new regs, even that will be much more difficult. Workers will have less time to give notice of their need for leave, while employers get more time to let them know whether the request for leave has been approved -- making it harder for workers to exercise their rights under FMLA. And one more little thing -- employers will have more direct access to the health care providers and health information of workers and their family members -- again jeopardizing workers' medical privacy.

Not wanting to leave anyone out of his year-end largesse, President Bush is also "giving" to poor women, in the form of new premiums and higher co-payments for Medicaid, the medical care of last resort for these women and their children. According to the New York Times, the new rule represents a sea change in Medicaid, and many experts predict it will cause Medicaid patients to go without medical services.

The Bush Administration admits this, blatantly citing the cost savings that will accrue because people can't afford the co-pays and new premiums. In their own words, "Some individuals may choose to delay or forgo care." Another little giftie in the package robs the taxpayers to feed the large pharmaceutical companies. Under the new rule, states can use the co-payments to push the use of expensive brand-name drugs instead of the cheaper generics.

Some will say none of this matters, that a new President can just overturn these onerous new regulations. True enough, but with the economy in shambles and two wars to worry about, these concerns will most likely be pushed to the bottom of the pile for at least a couple of years. After that, the process itself could take up to a year and a half. So thanks George -- and a happy holiday to you too.