ECONOMIC STIMULUS FORUM: The Bitter with the Sweet
February 25, 2009 posted by admin Overall, the economic stimulus plan that Congress passed and President Obama signed is a strong package. We fervently hope it will provide the help that struggling families urgently need, and begin putting the nation on the road to lasting economy recovery. We’ve never needed that more. There were victories, large and small, for those of us working for equal opportunity, 21st Century benefits, and quality, affordable health care. The relief for working families and the expansion of unemployment benefits are significant, as is the lower threshold for the child tax credit and increased funding for child care. Not as well known, but extremely important, is the health information technology (HIT) provisions that we fought to maintain. They withstood an attack from pharmaceutical manufacturers, health plans and drug store chains intent on putting profits ahead of privacy. With protections against inappropriate disclosures of health information, electronic medical records can do a tremendous amount to reduce medical errors, coordinate and streamline care, and reduce costs. This was a real step forward.
The National Partnership also championed a little-noticed provision that may have a big impact, requiring the collection of patient demographic data that will help us get to the bottom of some of the disparities that plague our health care system and reduce the quality of care for women and people of color. But there was bitter with the sweet. We wanted assurances that the “shovel-ready jobs” this package creates will give women opportunities, and provide a minimum standard of paid sick days that workers could use to recover from illness or care for a sick child. We didn’t get that. Similarly, the exclusion of a provision to let states expand eligibility for Medicaid family planning services for low-income families was a bitter pill, especially for those of us who hoped we’d seen the end of the days when women’s health issues were marginalized. The Medicaid Family Planning State Option provision would have made contraceptive services available to more low-income families, generating savings for states and the federal government. It belonged in the stimulus and it didn’t end up there because it became a talking point for opponents who care nothing for women’s health. The country is worse off because they won. In the end, we should remember that the economic stimulus was the first major legislation for a brand new Administration that’s facing huge challenges. The real test is what it does next on work/family issues, jobs, and health care. Its best chance of success may lie with all of us, and how determined we are to stay engaged and demand progress on the agenda the nation needs. --Debra Ness, President, National Partnership for Women & Families This post is part of a forum.