Behind Every Skate Woman
February 14, 2022
The Good News
- Bald eagle off Vermont’s threatened, endangered species list (AP)
- Durham police help save woman 3,000 miles away in Canada (Guardian)
“You look at me and cry; ‘everything hurts.’ I hold you and whisper: ‘but everything can heal.’” – Rupi Kaur
The Brain Gang
The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) is a federal law aiming to prevent group health plans and health insurance issuers that provide mental health or substance-use disorder benefits from imposing less favorable limitations on those benefits than on medical/surgical benefits. MHPAEA generally says that the financial requirements and treatment limitations — such as copayments and prior authorization requirements imposed – cannot be more restrictive than the financial requirements and treatment limitations that apply to medical and surgical benefits. The Secretary of Labor must submit a biennial report to Congress on compliance with MHPAEA requirements by group health plans and health insurance coverage offered in connection with such plans.
This year’s MHPAEA report dropped on January 25. It cites specific examples of health plans and health insurance issuers failing to ensure parity for mental health and substance use concern benefits to those they cover. For example, a health insurance issuer covered nutritional counseling for medical conditions like diabetes, but not for mental health conditions such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. “The report’s findings clearly indicate that health plans and insurance companies are falling short of providing parity in mental health and substance use disorder benefits, at a time when those benefits are needed like never before,” Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh said. “The pandemic is having a negative impact on the mental health of people in the U.S. and driving a rise in substance use. As a person in recovery, I know firsthand how important access to mental health and substance use disorder treatment is. Enforcement of this law is a top priority for the Department of Labor and an objective I take personally.” Walsh is the former Boston mayor who gave a speech on second chances at the 2016 Democratic Convention that began with an attention-grabbing opening: “My name is Marty Walsh, and I’m an alcoholic.”
Congress has tried at least three times since the 1990s to deal with health insurers that refuse to pay for mental health and substance use services, or that make patients jump through hoops to get care. Opioid overdoses continue today at record levels, alongside spikes in eating disorders and mental health emergency room visits for children. And as more is being learned about the negative long-term effects of Covid-19, a bipartisan group in the House and Senate is holding hearings, committed to drafting a comprehensive bill by this summer that includes tougher enforcement, like stiffer fines, against insurers that flout mental health parity rules. Likewise, the insurance industry has ramped up its pushback, with companies calling committee chairs and sending letters to key lawmakers to stop the legislation. (cms.gov, boston.com, Politico)
Head Of The Class
- On February 5, the government of the southern Indian state of Karnataka, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), banned clothes that “disturb equality, integrity and public order.” Specifically, this references the ability of Muslim women to wear the hijab at schools and colleges in the state.
- Since then, several colleges have seen protests both for and against the headscarf ban, and a U.S. official tweeted: “Religious freedom includes the ability to choose one’s religious attire. The Indian state of Karnataka should not determine permissibility of religious clothing. Hijab bans in schools violate religious freedom and stigmatize and marginalize women and girls.”
- On Thursday, the Karnataka high court deferred its decision in response to a petition filed by a group of Muslim women against the hijab ban. A three-judge panel will hear the case Monday to decide if schools and colleges can order students not to wear the hijab in classrooms. Meanwhile, the court has asked students not to wear hijab in colleges. (Al Jazeera)
Aid In The Shade
- President Biden signed an order Friday freeing up another $3.5 billion in frozen Afghan assets to be used for humanitarian aid. The funds will go to a trust fund managed by the U.N. to provide aid to Afghans. The country’s Central Bank called on Biden to reverse his order and release the funds to it, saying that the monies belonged to the people of Afghanistan and not a government, party, or group.
- A financial adviser to Afghanistan’s former U.S.-backed government questioned the U.N. managing Afghan Central Bank reserves. He said the funds weren’t meant for humanitarian aid but “to back up the country’s currency, help in monetary policy and manage the country’s balance of payment.”
- The Afghan economy is teetering on the brink of collapse after international money stopped coming in with the arrival of the Taliban in mid-August. On Saturday, demonstrators in Kabul condemned Biden’s order, shouting that America should provide financial compensation for the tens of thousands of Afghans killed during the last 20 years of war. (ABC)
Additional World News
- Pentagon orders departure of some US troops in Ukraine as crisis escalates (Axios)
- US aims to counter China by opening Solomon Islands embassy (AP)
- Once Lebanon’s center of glamour, Hamra Street goes dark (AP)
- Head of London Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, resigns after string of scandals (NBC)
- Africa ‘on track’ to control the Covid-19 pandemic, WHO says (CNN)
- Myanmar junta holds parade on major holiday, announces prisoner amnesty (Reuters)
- Thousands march in Kyiv to show unity against Russian threat (Reuters)
Behind Every Skate Woman…
- Erin Jackson is a Black U.S. speed skater who ranks first in the world. But the 29-year-old almost missed her opportunity to compete for an Olympic medal when she slipped during qualifying trials for the 500-meter race, until her teammate and friend, Brittany Bowe, gave up her own spot to ensure that Jackson could go to Beijing – and it paid off.
- On Sunday, Jackson won the women’s 500m gold medal in a time of 37.04 seconds. She is not only the first U.S. woman to win a speed skating gold at the Olympics since Bonnie Blair did so in 1994, but the first Black woman overall. (CNN)
Texing Their Muscles
- Many states across the country have seen their Republican lawmakers passing voting laws that add barriers for voters of color, with Texas standing as a key example of this failure. Senate Bill 1, a Republican-sponsored bill designed to tie voters to valid IDs, has already resulted in an uncharacteristically high number of ballot rejections – less than a month ahead of the governor’s primary election.
- Officials say up to 40% of about 3,600 returned ballots in Harris County – the most populous Texas county, which includes Houston – have lacked the identification number required by the new bill. A suburb of Austin has seen a 25% rejection rate. Of course, as more ballots come in, we may see the rejection rate drop, but a major concern remains: will voters take the time to correct the mistake, or is this added step going to cause a drastic drop in voter turnout? (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- James Warner, former airport official convicted in record-setting bribe scheme, found dead after failing to report to prison (CBS)
- Alleged ‘boogaloo’ member pleads guilty to killing guard during 2020 protests (NPR)
- Billionaire developer Rick Caruso enters race for LA mayor (LAT, $)
- White House uses GOP’s own rhetoric to rebut Supreme Court criticisms (The Hill)
- In Hawaii, Blinken Aims for a United Front With Allies on North Korea (NYT, $)
- Wisconsin Supreme Court allows ballot boxes to be banned for April election (The Hill)
- Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Rallies Support For Progressive Texas Candidates (HuffPost)
Music To My Ears
- We all have that one song that makes us cringe when we hear it, and New Zealand lawmakers and law enforcement were betting that some of those songs would be universally despised. Protesters have been camped out since Tuesday at the country’s Parliament, protesting Covid-19 vaccine mandates.
- Police first tried to disperse the crowds by turning on sprinklers, which prompted the crowds to dig trenches to divert the water elsewhere. A rainstorm hit on Saturday, and the crowd brought in bales of straw, scattered it on the ground, and began to shout or, in some cases, perform an Indigenous Maori haka.
- Parliament Speaker Trevor Mallard came up with a new plan to try to make the protesters feel less welcome: they started to broadcast vaccine messages, vintage Barry Manilow songs, and the 1990s hit “Macarena” on a loop over a sound system. Apparently, the protesters have bad taste, because they simply blasted their own playlist in response. Mallard said some have recommended he put the vaccine into the sprinkler system, but joked, “I don’t think it works that way.” (AP)
- 5,000-year-old drum and three Stonehenge-era children found in England (WaPo, $)
- Four-story high rogue wave breaks records off the coast of Vancouver Island (CNN)
- Polar bear inbreeding and bird ‘divorces’: Weird ways climate change is affecting animal species (ABC)
- Manmade mini-star a “fantastic achievement” in quest for unlimited clean energy to tackle climate change (CBS)
- An AirAsia flight was diverted after passengers spotted a snake on their plane (NPR)
- Fossil shows that dinosaurs got sick just like us (CNN)
- Condomless Sex Is On The Rise. This Is Why Some People Don’t Use Them Anymore. (BuzzFeed)
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