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A federal judge today temporarily blocked an Arkansas law that would ban abortion care starting at 12 weeks of pregnancy from taking effect. The judge issued the preliminary injunction from the bench following arguments in the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Arkansas, and the Center for Reproductive Rights' challenge to the ban.
"We have asked the court to stop this dangerous law from going into effect," said Holly Dickson, legal director of the ACLU of Arkansas. "This law is aimed at allowing politicians to insert themselves into deeply personal and private medical care and decisions for which they should have no say."
The law was passed in March when the Arkansas legislature overrode Gov. Mike Beebe's veto. The ban is set to take effect on Aug. 16.
"This law is an extreme example of how lawmakers around the country are trying to limit a woman's ability to make the best decision for herself and her family," said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. "Far from safeguarding women's health, these laws are designed with one purpose - to eliminate all access to abortion care."
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The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 and is our nation's guardian of liberty. The ACLU works in the courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to all people in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States.(212) 549-2666
"As negotiations over a pandemic treaty begin in earnest, governments must look to the greed, nationalism, and profiteering that characterized the world's response to Covid-19 and say: 'never again.'"
As a draft of the World Health Organization's pandemic treaty circulated Wednesday, human rights champions praised the text as a welcome departure from the corporate-friendly intellectual property regime that has constrained the global supply of lifesaving medical tools and worsened preventable suffering throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
"After the collective trauma of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have a glimmer of hope," Mohga Kamal-Yanni, policy co-lead for the People's Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement. "This text contains measures to provide everyone, everywhere with access to the tools needed to prevent and combat pandemics."
"This draft marks a powerful recognition that pandemic response cannot succeed on charity, rather it requires global solidarity."
Kamal-Yanni was not alone. James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, said that the WHO pandemic treaty draft "is surprisingly strong on several topics."
Love pointed to the draft treaty's intellectual property provisions, which stipulate that in the event of a pandemic, parties "will take appropriate measures to support time-bound waivers of intellectual property rights that can accelerate or scale up manufacturing of pandemic-related products."
Among other things, the text also states that parties "shall encourage all holders of patents related to the production of pandemic-related products to waive, or manage as appropriate, payment of royalties by developing country manufacturers on the use, during the pandemic, of their technology for production of pandemic-related products, and shall require, as appropriate, those that have received public financing for the development of pandemic-related products to do so."
\u201cThe WHO zero draft of the pandemic treaty is out, it is surprisingly strong on several topics. This is one section on intellectual property rights.\u201d— James Love (@James Love) 1675249804
Dose hoarding by high-income nations and knowledge hoarding by pharmaceutical corporations whose Covid-19 vaccines, tests, and treatments owe their existence to billions of dollars in public funding has resulted in artificial scarcity, prolonging the pandemic while turning several executives into billionaires. According to the latest figures from Our World in Data, less than 27% of people in low-income countries have received a single jab to date, and similar inequalities have been observed with respect to therapeutics and diagnostics.
Policymakers from wealthy countries have refused to force profitable drugmakers like Pfizer and Moderna to relinquish their monopoly power over publicly funded technology even as the pandemic's global death toll soared to well over 15 million. The coronavirus continues to kill nearly 2,600 people around the world each day. Moreover, excess mortality—an estimate of the difference in the number of deaths that occur amid a crisis compared with what would have been expected under "normal" conditions—has been four times higher in poorer countries than rich ones throughout the pandemic.
The emerging pandemic treaty acknowledges this injustice, declaring that the document's creation began in December 2021 in response to "the catastrophic failure of the international community in showing solidarity and equity in response to the coronavirus disease."
Kamal-Yanni stressed Wednesday that the new WHO document "is a draft, not a final text."
"Governments need to demonstrate their commitment to a treaty based on equity and human rights" during negotiations, she said.
The WHO's Intergovernmental Negotiating Body (INB), which assembled the draft and will lead negotiations, is scheduled to meet next on February 27. It has until the WHO's 2024 World Health Assembly to finalize the pact.
Health Policy Watchreported that the draft "is unlikely to survive in its current form given the strong pharmaceutical lobby, particularly in the European Union," while Kamal-Yanni tweeted, "Now the real fight begins!"
\u201c@FilesGeneva @ThiruGeneva @WHO Now the real fight begins! The negotiation is a Litmus test of how serious1) rich govts are about equitable access to medical tools, & preventing n controlling pandemics and 2) developing countries are about prioritising healthcare\n@peoplesvaccine \nBoth have to address funding\u201d— Geneva Health Files (@Geneva Health Files) 1675250968
James Cole, advocacy manager at STOPAIDS, echoed his colleagues.
"This draft marks a powerful recognition that pandemic response cannot succeed on charity, rather it requires global solidarity," Cole said in a statement. "With vaccines, tests, and treatments being delivered thanks to billions in public funding, it is welcome to see this text include support for intellectual property waivers, increased local production capacity, and conditions on public funding for research."
"The text is a strong first step to loosening the grip on intellectual property that Big Pharma companies have used to uphold monopolies and deny access to lifesaving health tools through the Covid pandemic," Cole continued. "By loosening this chokehold, the world will not have to fight the next pandemic with one hand behind its back."
"However," he warned, "language of 'promoting' and 'encouraging' manufacturers to enact the measures outlined lets industry off the hook and should be strengthened to ensure all stakeholders are committed to achieving an equitable pandemic response. Now, low- and middle-income member states must stand firm through negotiations and ensure that rich nations do not dilute the text in the interests of private profits."
"Low- and middle-income member states must stand firm through negotiations and ensure that rich nations do not dilute the text in the interests of private profits."
Kamal-Yanni, for her part, stated that "building manufacturing capacity in developing countries is critical to controlling pandemics, which will ultimately save lives everywhere."
Notably, the WHO has sought to facilitate knowledge sharing and ramp up local production capacity in low- and middle-income nations through its mRNA Vaccine Technology Transfer Hub.
The first consortium—based at Afrigen Biologics in Cape Town, South Africa—has successfully replicated the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine co-created by Moderna and the U.S. National Institutes of Health despite Big Pharma's best attempts to undermine their work.
As of last April, 15 manufacturers in developing countries have been named as "spokes," or recipients of mRNA technology and training from the Afrigen hub. In addition, the WHO has teamed up with South Korea to establish a global teaching facility that can share best practices.
Bolstering such efforts "will address the injustice of the Covid-19 and AIDS pandemics that saw people in lower-income countries forced to wait at the back of the line for vaccines, tests, and treatments," said Kamal-Yanni.
“To achieve this, we need more than just words," she continued. "Governments must commit to sharing medical technology and know-how. The intellectual property rules that uphold pharmaceutical company monopolies must be waived automatically when a health emergency is declared. And governments must place conditions to ensure that publicly funded innovations are available to manufacturers in the Global South."
"As negotiations over a pandemic treaty begin in earnest," Kamal-Yanni added, "governments must look to the greed, nationalism, and profiteering that characterized the world's response to Covid-19 and say: 'never again.'"
"We are the working class, and we are back," said one union leader. "We are here, we are demanding change, we refuse to be bought."
With organizers saying it's entirely within the power of the United Kingdom's Conservative government to ensure public sector employees are paid fairly, roughly half a million workers walked out on Wednesday in the country's largest coordinated strike in more than a decade.
About 300,000 of the striking employees are educators, and they were joined by civil servants, railroad workers, university professors, London bus drivers, museum workers, and border officials, among others, with 59% of Britons telling YouGov in a recent poll that they supported the walkout.
The strong support comes even as an estimated 85% of schools across the U.K. were closed on Wednesday. Students and parents stood on picket lines alongside teachers, whose wages have not kept up with inflation and who are struggling to teach in schools where per-pupil spending for the 2024-25 school year is now expected to be 3% lower than it was in 2010.
\u201cMassive turnout in London today to support striking workers \ud83d\udc4a\n\nThe message to the government is clear: \n\n#EnoughlsEnough \n\nhttps://t.co/6qQEc61CzJ\u201d— Enough is Enough (@Enough is Enough) 1675255443
"It's partly about pay, which has been reduced by 11% over the last 10 years," Jon Voake, a drama teacher in South Gloucestershire, toldThe Guardian. "But it's also about how our workload's going up. We're all working with bigger groups. Children's education is going to suffer and enough is enough."
In the most economically deprived parts of the country, the National Education Union said, teachers' pay has gone down by more than 20% since 2010 as the rate of inflation in the U.K. stands at 10.5%—"the highest among the G7 group of advanced economies," according toAl Jazeera.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) says that the average public sector worker in the U.K. now has $250 less per month than they did in 2010, accounting for inflation. A graph the organization shared on social media as the workers walked out showed that teachers' real compensation is now far lower than the range among other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
\u201cEngland primary teachers' real pay vs other OECD countries. \n\nThis is why teachers are on strike.\u201d— Trades Union Congress (@Trades Union Congress) 1675260664
A 5% pay raise offered to public sector workers last year is actually a 7% pay cut when accounting for soaring inflation, union leaders say.
The walkout comes a day after members of Parliament passed an anti-strike law that would enforce "minimum service levels" in a railroad sector and emergency services, threatening workers with termination if they take part in a work stoppage. The bill still needs to pass in the House of Lords before becoming law. The TUC has said it could take the government to court over the proposal, which TUC assistant general secretary Kate Bell told The Guardian is "unnecessary, unfair, and almost certainly illegal."
Ambulance drivers and nurses are reportedly planning to stage a work stoppage in the coming days.
Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told public health workers on Monday, "I would love, nothing more would give me more pleasure than, to wave a magic wand and have all of you paid lots more"—but organizers and labor advocates on Wednesday said Sunak's government simply needs to change its tax policies to mitigate the cost-of-living crisis.
"We just need a fair taxation system," John McDonnell, a Labour MP former shadow chancellor of the exchequer, told The Guardian, calling on the Tories to tax capital gains at the same level of income to pay for raises. "The issue at the moment is that we seem to have a government that is redistributing wealth upwards."
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, toldThe Guardian that the Tories have claimed it would cost £29 billion ($35 billion) to give raises to public sectors, while the actual amount is about £10 billion ($12 billion).
"And £10 billion in an economy like ours can easily be found," said Serwotka.
Mick Lynch, secretary general of the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers, rallied thousands of teachers outside Downing Street in London.
"We are the working class, and we are back," said Lynch. "We are here, we are demanding change, we refuse to be bought, and we are going to win for our people on our terms."
"Only Medicare is Medicare," said Rep. Mark Pocan. "These non-Medicare plans run by private insurers undermine traditional Medicare."
In an effort to crack down on the misleading practices of Medicare Advantage providers, Democratic Reps. Mark Pocan, Ro Khanna, and Jan Schakowsky reintroduced legislation Tuesday that would ban private insurers from using the "Medicare" label in the names of their health plans.
The legislation, titled the
Save Medicare Act, would formally change the name of the Medicare Advantage program to the Alternative Private Health Plan, an attempt to make clear to seniors that the plans are run by private entities such as Anthem, Humana, Cigna, and UnitedHealthcare.
"Only Medicare is Medicare," Pocan (D-Wis.) said in a statement. "It is one of the most popular and important services the government provides. These non-Medicare plans run by private insurers undermine traditional Medicare. They often leave patients without the benefits they need while overcharging the federal government for corporate profit."
Khanna (D-Calif.) declared that "it's time to call out 'Medicare Advantage' for what it is: private insurance that profits by denying coverage and the name is being used to trick seniors into enrolling."
"That's not right," he added. "This bill will end the scam by preventing private insurers from profiting off the Medicare brand. Our focus should be on strengthening and expanding real Medicare."
The bill, which faces long odds in the Republican-controlled House, was introduced as GOP lawmakers push for cuts to traditional Medicare as part of their broader austerity campaign.
It also comes as the Biden administration is moving ahead with a Medicare privatization scheme known as ACO REACH, a pilot program that critics warn could fully engulf traditional Medicare in a matter of years.
The Democratic trio's legislation does not specifically address ACO REACH, opting to zero in on Medicare Advantage plans that are notorious for denying necessary care to vulnerable seniors and overbilling the federal government.
The measure would impose a $100,000 penalty each time a private insurer uses the Medicare name in the title of one of their plans.
"So-called Medicare Advantage is neither Medicare nor an advantage. It is simply another scheme by the insurance companies to line their pockets."
Earlier this week, the Biden administration proposed a new rule that would strengthen audits of Medicare Advantage plans, which are paid an annual per-person rate by the federal government. Recent investigations have exposed how Medicare Advantage plans frequently overcharge the government by making patients appear sicker than they are, resulting in a higher payment.
The federal government currently expects to pay Medicare Advantage providers more than $6 trillion over the next eight years.
"Medicare reimburses Medicare Advantage plans using a complex formula called a risk score that computes higher rates for sicker patients and lower ones for healthier people," Kaiser Health Newsreported in December. "But federal officials rarely demand documentation to verify that patients have these conditions, or that they are as serious as claimed. Only about 5% of Medicare Advantage plans are audited yearly."
Medicare Advantage has grown rapidly over the past decade, with more than 28 million people in the U.S. enrolled in such plans as of 2022. MA plans often provide coverage for hearing, vision, and dental—benefits not offered by traditional Medicare, despite the efforts of progressive lawmakers to expand the program.
Some Democratic lawmakers have warned that part of the massive growth rate of Medicare Advantage plans could be due to their deceptive advertising practices.
In November, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) released an
investigative report laying out evidence of a range of "predatory actions" by private insurance companies that offer Medicare Advantage plans.
"Agents were found to sign up beneficiaries for plans under false pretenses, such as telling a beneficiary that coverage networks include preferred providers even when they do not," the investigation found. "Of particular concern to the committee were reports across states of agents changing vulnerable seniors' and people with disabilities' health plans without their consent."
Wendell Potter, president of the Center for Health and Democracy, said Tuesday that "so-called Medicare Advantage is neither Medicare nor an advantage."
"It is simply another scheme by the insurance companies to line their pockets at the expense of consumers," said Potter, a former health insurance executive with first-hand experience of the industry's misleading practices. "I applaud Congressman Pocan and Congressman Khanna for introducing this vital legislation. The healthcare market is confusing for consumers and misleading branding like so-called Medicare Advantage just makes it worse."