Clinton and Murray Still Tenacious on HHS Rule

I got the following press release earlier today about Senators Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray continuing to try to block the HHS rule that the Bush administration has been trying to ram through, even after a public comment period in which women raised objections far and wide:

WASHINGTON, DC — In light of reports that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is preparing to enact a rule that would undermine critical health care services for women and families, Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) today introduced legislation that would prevent the HHS rule from going into effect. The proposed HHS rule would require any health care entity that receives federal financing to certify in writing that none of its employees are required to assist in any way with medical services they find objectionable. The proposed bill would keep HHS from moving forward with this rule.

"In the final days of his administration, the President is again putting ideology first and attempting to roll back health care protections for women and families. The fact that the EEOC was never consulted in the drafting of this rule further illustrates that this is purely a political ploy. This HHS rule will threaten patients' rights, stand in the way of health care professionals, and restrict access to critical health care services for those who need them most. Senator Murray and I are standing up once again to the administration against this rule and will continue to fight for women's reproductive rights. President Bush is making a last-minute attempt to undermine women's health care, but our legislation will stop this rule and ensure that women can continue to get needed health care," said Senator Clinton.

"It's now clear that the Bush Administration is so desperate to move their political agenda forward that they are even willing to ignore the advice of their own appointed lawyers. But patient protection and access to care should never take a back seat to politics," Senator Murray said. "Senator Clinton and I are introducing this legislation to ensure that the health of patients always come first. For eight years this administration has worked to undermine women's health but they won't get away with it on their way out the door."

"This midnight regulation is another outrageous attempt by the Bush administration to deny women access to vital health care information and services," said Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards. "Planned Parenthood applauds members of Congress for taking on the task of undoing the abysmal policy mandates and we stand ready to work with them to ensure women have access to the full range of reproductive health care options."

Senators Clinton and Murray have led the effort to block HHS from implementing this new rule. Following a meeting with HHS Secretary Michael O. Leavitt on September 23, Senators Clinton and Murray led a group of 28 Senators urging Secretary Leavitt to halt the proposed HHS rule. Senators Clinton and Murray on called for the meeting with Secretary Leavitt on August 8 after Secretary Leavitt failed to reply to several letters from the Senators and instead defended the proposed HHS policies on his personal blog.

The senators have worked in the past to stop efforts by the Bush Administration to put in place ideological barriers to women's health. They successfully led the fight to secure an administration decision on the over-the-counter sale of Plan B emergency contraception after more than three years of Administration delay.
Planned Parenthood has also just issued a press release:
Washington, DC — Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) applauds Senators Hillary Clinton and Patty Murray for their effort to block the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from issuing a midnight regulation that would put women's access to basic health care in jeopardy with the introduction of the Protecting Patients and Health Care Act. The legislation recognizes that, with this sweeping regulation, HHS exceeded its authority under the statutes it is claiming to interpret.

"This pending health care refusal regulation poses a serious threat to a woman's ability to trust that she is getting complete and accurate health care information and services," said PPFA President Cecile Richards. "Senators Clinton and Murray are true champions of women's health, and their proposed legislation sends a strong signal to administrative agencies that Congress will not stand by as those agencies try to slip in ill-conceived midnight regulations."

The proposed regulation would allow providers, based on their personal biases, to withhold both services and the critical information women need to make fully informed decisions about their health care. HHS submitted its proposed rule in late August 2008, and is in violation of a White House directive to administrative agencies to finalize all proposed regulations by November 1, 2008. During the 30-day public comment period, roughly 200,000 comments were submitted in opposition to this regulation from medical associations, women's health organizations, members of Congress, state governors and attorneys general, religious leaders, and the general public.

This week, PPFA, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the U.S. Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) at the Office of Management and Budget, urging OIRA to take its responsibilities seriously with respect to HHS. Read the letter here.

For complete information on the regulation, including links to the official comments from elected officials and advocacy organizations, click here.
At this point, I don't know that there's anything we can do except contact the offices of Senator Clinton and Senator Murray with our support, or contact the offices of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and register our disagreement with the rule change once again.

Any other ideas? Leave 'em in comments.

[Previously on on the HHS Rule Change: One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven.]

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