Monday, December 29, 2008

Bush’s Last Minute Christmas Gift: HHS Rule Goes Into Effect

The day we have been dreading has finally come. President Bush signed the executive order to enact the final draft of the Department of Health and Human Services, (HHS) regulation . The new regulation allows people only tangentially related to the provision of health care and an increased number of medical institutions to refuse a woman care based on religious and moral beliefs. This regulation could jeopardize patients’ rights to receive quality, comprehensive health-care services.

The regulation presents numerous problems. For example, it jeopardizes women's access to birth control by leaving open the possibility that providers will be able to define contraception as abortion. The regulation also expands the universe of individuals and institutions that are explicitly afforded refusal rights, such as receptionists scheduling appointments, and it may grant entire health-care corporations (hospitals, HMOs, insurance companies) the same "conscience" rights as those offered to individuals.
The regulation also allows individuals to refuse to give referrals and information about a broad range of services. Current law allows individuals the right to refuse to refer or counsel patients for abortion services, but the regulation may allow individuals to refuse to provide referrals and information about any health-care services. This could affect reproductive-health services and many other health-care services beyond.

There has been considerable outcry against this regulation. NARAL Pro-Choice America sent 2,500 birth-control packs to the Department of HHS to represent the thousands of activists who signed a petition to protest the Bush administration’s proposal. The organization also channeled 25,558 comments to the public forum section of the HHS website. The public outcry caused the enactment of the proposed regulation to be postponed almost two months.

Leading members of the U.S. Senate and House from both sides of the aisle sent letters calling on Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt to abandon the regulation. In November, Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced legislation intended to block the HHS rule . A coalition formed of policy makers and medical groups, including The American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Hospital Association, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, campaigned tirelessly ruthlessly against the enactment of the HHS rule, but unfortunately their objections were ignored.

Thankfully, Bush will only be president for one more month. While the regulation is expected to be reversed by president-elect Obama, the offensiveness of Bush’s actions should not be overlooked. In his final days, Bush chose to once again blatantly disregard women’s health.

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