Paid family leave is on the march in Oregon

I traveled to Salem, Oregon last night for a hearing on bill to create a paid family leave program. The bill, if passed, would allow new parents up to 26 weeks of paid parental leave. Workers caring for a sick family member or themselves could get up to 12 weeks of paid leave. And expecting mothers could get up to six weeks of leave before delivering. This would be paid for by a 0.5% or less payroll tax.

I had planned to testify in support of the bill on behalf of the Oregon Pediatric Society. But, I was pleasantly surprised when it turned out there were so many people already signed up to testify in support of the bill that there was not time for my oral testimony.

Lawmakers heard from mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, and spouses about how paid family leave would help them to care for their newborn or sick family member. There were many small business owners who were eager to have help from the community at large to provide paid family leave for their employees. In opposition to the bill were several representatives from Chambers of Commerce and a few business owners, most of whom spoke in generalities about how the regulatory environment makes it hard to do business in Oregon.

On the contrary, I think this law will be a tremendous benefit to business in Oregon, attracting new companies that want excellent benefits for their employees.

I am hopeful that lawmakers will pass this bill and bring Oregon up to speed with the world in providing paid family leave.

Babies Are Everywhere! (in Germany)

I recently had the opportunity to travel to Munich, Germany for vacation. My partner and I spent most of a day crisscrossing the center of the city on foot, visiting churches, seeking currywurst, and wandering through the Englischer Garten. We noticed parents with their infants everywhere we went, eating breakfast at the cafe, strolling along the sidewalk, lying on picnic blankets in the park. Bonding, playing, loving. Unlike in the United States, these infants were not just one or two months old, but one to 15 months old. And, unlike in the US, they were as likely to be with Dad as with Mom.

Germany, like most of the rest of the world excepting the United States, has a robust paid parental leave policy. That policy is evident on the streets of Munich.


Paid family leave improves child and maternal health

Paid family leave allows new parents to spend time at home with their newborn or adopted child, developing the nurturing, protective bonds that enhance brain development and ward off toxic stress. In addition, parental leave has direct, immediate impacts on the health of infants:

  • Maternity leave correlates with higher rates and longer duration of breastfeeding (1, 2)

  • Maternity leave is associated with higher birth weights and lower infant mortality (3)

  • Parental leave improves rates of vaccination and well-child checkups (4)

Paid family leave is also important if a child becomes seriously ill and requires more than a few days of hospitalization or care at home.

For new mothers, maternity leave correlates to increased energy, decreased fatigue, and decreased symptoms of depression (5, 6).

Paid family leave can help relieve childhood poverty

Access to paid family leave in the United States is extremely limited. In most states, employers can choose not to provide paid family leave. Nationally, it is a privilege that only 13% of workers have (7), and they tend to be higher earners. Only 5% of earners in the lowest quartile have access to paid family leave, while 21% of earners in the highest quartile do (7). The birth or adoption of a child, or a child’s serious illness, are events that increase household emotional and financial stress. Low-income workers are least likely to be able to afford a disruption in pay during one of these events. As a result, many parents who get unpaid leave after the birth or adoption of a child return to work early because they cannot afford to go without pay.

Universal paid family leave would allow many more parents to take leave, and to receive pay during that leave, at a time when financial demands on a family are relatively high. These benefits would accrue especially to low-income families.

United States lags behind on parental leave policy

Relative to 20 other wealthy nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States parental leave policy – The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 – falls short:

  • Parental leave is shorter than in other countries – 24 weeks total for both parents versus an average of 95 weeks, median of 60 weeks

  • Parental leave is unpaid, compared to an average of 23 weeks fulltime-equivalent paid leave, median of 20 weeks (8)

In addition to these limitations, many US workers do not qualify for FMLA. There are key requirements that exclude many parents from eligibility: 

  • the employer must have 50 or more employees

  • the employee must have worked for 12 months for that employer

  • the employee must have worked at least 1250 hours in the previous year for that employer

These requirements exclude part-time, temporary, and seasonal workers. They also exclude many low-income workers who work more than 40 hours per week but hold more than one part-time job.

The FAMILY Act

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, first introduced in 2013, would make qualifying family leave, such as the birth or adoption of a child or long-term care for a seriously ill child, available to all workers. The Act would:

  • Provide up to 12 weeks of family leave with partial pay

  • Provide 66% of wages during the leave, up to a capped amount

  • Be paid for with a payroll tax of 2 cents per $10 in wages

  • Be available to every worker, including part-time and seasonal workers, and those who work for small businesses

The FAMILY Act, if implemented, would make paid family leave available to every working mother, father, and adoptive parent. This is likely to improve breastfeeding rates and vaccination rates, and help low-income and middle-class families afford to take time off from work to bond with their newborn or tend to their sick child.

References

  1. Ogbuanu C, et al. 2011. The effect of maternity leave length and time of return to work on breastfeeding. Pediatrics 127(6):e1414 

  2. Guendelman S, et al. 2008. Juggling work and breastfeeding: effects of maternity leave and occupational characteristics. Pediatrics 123(1):e38-e46

  3. Rossin M. 2011. The effects of maternity leave on children’s birth and infant health outcomes in the United States. Journal of Health Economics 30(2):221-239

  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2014. Work family supports for low-income families: Key research findings and policy trends. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/14/WorkFamily/rpt_WorkFamily.pdf

  5. Chatterji P and Markowitz S. 2004. Does the length of maternity leave affect maternal health? National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 10206

  6. McGovern P, et al. 1997. Time off work and the postpartum health of employed women. Medical Care 35(5):507-521.

  7. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2014 http://www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/benefits/2014/ownership/civilian/table32a.htm

  8. Ray R et al. 2009. Parental leave policies in 21 countries. Center for Economic and Policy Research

Getting to Single-Payer

If we changed our health care system overnight to single-payer, we would not instantly save $1 trillion per year.

Let's look at how we spend our health care dollars now. According the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), this is how, in 2015, we spent $3.2 trillion:
- $1 trillion (up 5.6% year over year) on hospitals
- $635 billion (up 6.3%) on physician and clinical services
- $88 billion (up 5.9%) on other professional services (e.g. podiatry, physical therapy, optometry)
- $118 billion (up 4.2%) on dentistry
- $163 billion (up 7.8%) on "other health, residential, and personal care services" (e.g. school-based care, workplace health care, community centers, ambulances)
- $89 billion (up 6.3%) on home health care
- $157 billion (up 2.7%) on nursing home and retirement care
- $325 billion (up 9.0%) on prescription drugs
- $49 billion (up 3.9%) on durable medical equipment
- $59 billion (up 3.7%) on non-durable medical equipment

That leaves about $520 billion, or 16% of the total spending, unaccounted for. This is overhead. Estimates vary about how much money we could save by cutting insurance overhead costs. Medicare, the federal single-payer system for those older than 65, has an overhead of about 2% whereas private insurance overhead averages about 12%. Steffie Woolhandler and David Himmelstein estimate that we "could save approximately $504 billion annually on bureaucracy" by going to single-payer.

Besides bureaucratic overhead, why else is American health care so expensive? Prices. We pay more for CT scans, MRIs, pharmaceuticals, hospital services, and procedures. And why are prices so high? Compared to other countries, we have done less to regulate the health care industry and the prices in that system. For example, the UK’s National Health Service is a massive purchaser of pharmaceuticals and negotiates favorable prices; it then controls the growth in those prices. America’s Medicare, by contrast, is not allowed to negotiate drug prices. (It mystifies me that supposed ‘free-market’ conservatives defend this plainly anti-capitalist statute.)

To this list of reasons for high health care costs in the US — bureaucratic overhead, high prices, and dysfunctional and counterproductive regulation — add system fragmentation, perverse incentives, and severe under-investment in health promotion and disease prevention, including transportation, food systems, healthy housing, healthy communities, open spaces, pollution control, etc.

A single-payer health care system has the potential to diminish, if not cure, many of these ills. Bureaucratic overhead would be much lower than 16%, if not as low as Medicare’s 2%. A cohesive public health and health care system could align incentives with outcomes; invest in prevention and realize the saving in health care delivery; make pricing transparent and competitive.

Further, with guaranteed health care, Americans would be free to start a business, change jobs or industries, or go back to school, and not have to worry about how they would afford health care for themselves or their employees. I struggle to imagine a more potent injection of entrepreneurial energy into the American economy.

Unfortunately, the road to single-payer is riddled with obstacles. Public opinion is starting to shift in its favor, but political will is lagging. There are many entrenched interests wishing to defend their $1 trillion, give or take, who currently benefit from our fragmented, inefficient, opaque, and wasteful system. I believe the public option - in which individuals could choose to buy insurance from the federal government rather than private companies - is the most viable route to single-payer. Another, more attractive, option would be to enroll every child under 18 in a federal health insurance system - Medicare for kids. Then, year by year, increase the enrollment age by one year to 19, then 20, etc, thus creating an entire generation that is fully insured. (We could, at the same time raise the national smoking age, year by year, creating a smoke free generation — imagine the savings!)

No matter the path to single-payer, I think it is inevitable that we will get there. Whether this century or the next will determine what other things, with a spare $1 trillion per year, our nation can accomplish.

Why Not Universal Coverage?

Imagine if you decided to quit your job. Or if you were fired? What if you wanted to start a new business? Or go back to school? Or take a few months for travel or to write the next Great American Novel?

How would you maintain health insurance coverage for yourself and for your family?

You might get expensive COBRA coverage. You might go to healthcare.gov (when it is not down for maintenance) and find insurance on the ObamaCare exchange. You might go without insurance for a while and hope that you and your family do not get sick or injured.

But what if your health insurance were guaranteed to you and your family as a public good? Would you be more inclined to start a new business? Or get more education or job training? Or spend more time volunteering or pursuing something creative? What if you had less stress about finances or the unexpected?


Now picture a Congress that has more time, energy, and political capital to address the most pressing needs of the country and the world -- climate change, crumbling infrastructure, corporate greed, income inequality, poverty, famine, displacement, violent conflict -- because they are not fighting over health care.


Finally, imagine if, as a country, we spent 9.7% of GDP on health care like the UK, or 11% like Sweden, or 10.9% like Japan, or 11.3% like Germany, or 9.6% like Australia instead of 17.2% of GDP on health care (data from Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). If we spent only 12% of GDP -- still more than other OECD countries (except Switzerland, 12.4%) -- on health care, we would save almost $1 trillion every year and $10 trillion over 10 years.

How to spend that money is for another post, but for some perspective: we could rebuild the entire US highway system twice over every year, or pay off the national debt of almost $20.5 trillion in 28 years, or give our 3.2 million public school teachers a $300,000 raise.


1. Guaranteed health care. 2. Lawmakers focused on other major national and world problems. 3. $1 trillion in savings. This is the dream of single-payer advocates, such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  For the average American, it's win-win-win-win: greater economic and personal freedom, less stress, fewer medical bankruptcies (or none!), no news stories about the next GOP attempt to trash ObamaCare, more public and private dollars for investments in America's and the world's future.

So what is the hold up? One trillion dollars every year. The difference between what we spend on health care (17.2% of GDP) and what other wealthy countries with excellent health care spend (12% or less) is $1 trillion of fat that now goes to insurance companies, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, nursing facilities, pharmacists, doctors, shareholders of the medical-industrial complex, and thousands of industry lobbyists. A lot of people are made wealthy by the inefficiency of our health care system. And, right now, these powerful interest groups have more sway with lawmakers and public opinion than single-payer advocates.

That is starting to change.


Up next, driving the change to single-payer.

It's Been a While

My last post was in May. Since then, this happened.

Trump expanded the global gag rule, preventing American dollars from going to international health organizations that discuss, let alone provide, abortions.

Congress failed to pass health care reform legislation after some Republicans decided the bills were too cruel. Or, in the case of Rand Paul, not cruel enough.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price stepped down after abusing the public trust and wasting public dollars on private jet travel.

Trump put an end to cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments that help keep premiums low on the individual insurance market, where every plan must cover essential benefits.

Speaking of essential benefits, Trump moved to allow health insurance products that do not cover essential benefits and are, therefore, cheaper. And worse. And will undermine the individual insurance exchange by furthering adverse selection.

Congress missed the deadline to reauthorize the Children's Health Insurance Program.

North Korea.

58 people were killed and hundreds more injured in Las Vegas in the largest mass shooting in modern American history. Thousands more Americans were killed by guns without making headlines, the majority of them suicides. Responding to overwhelming public opinion, Congress moved swiftly to pass common-sense gun control legislation. Nope. That didn't happen.

Trump put a deadline on DACA.

A bevy of powerful and destructive hurricanes struck the Caribbean and the US. Meanwhile, massive wildfires burned in the West. These disasters have and will cost hundreds of billions of dollars in rebuilding, immeasurable human suffering, and many deaths. The US lost 33,000 jobs in September, the first month of losses in 7 years and attributable to the hurricanes.

Rather than recognize the economic and human costs of 'natural' disasters that are almost certainly linked to human-caused global climate change, EPA chief Scott Pruitt started to unravel the Clean Power Plan.

Republicans proposed tax reforms that would disproportionately benefit the rich and cost trillions of dollars. But, you might get to file on a postcard. It's the small things in life.


Meanwhile, it is a beautiful fall Sunday in Portland, Oregon. The Portland Thorns won the National Women's Soccer League championship yesterday. Families are out and about. Kids are toddling. Dogs are wagging and sniffing. Cyclists are cruising. Espresso is brewing. We are building our reserves, gathering our strength for the next battle to preserve the climate, save health insurance, reduce gun violence, fund public education, and build a strong, diverse, inclusive, and competitive American future.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth One Pound Eight Ounces of Cure

NPR reported this morning on a health care system in Pennsylvania -- Geisinger -- that is helping its diabetic patients by prescribing fresh foods. They are seeing dramatic improvements in hemoglobin A1c, a marker of blood sugar control, and expect to reap $24,000 in savings for each $1,000 spent on the program.

That loud bang you hear is not a secret airplane landing with a sonic boom but the sound of public health researchers and advocates smacking their foreheads. The public health community has long been pushing for upstream interventions to improve health, like improving access to fresh foods, building safe communities so people can be outside getting exercise, getting tobacco out of public spaces.

This is not to diminish what Geisinger is doing. On the contrary, we need more health systems to innovate in preventive care. But under the traditional payment model -- where every widget (or toe amputation) is reimbursed -- health care organizations stand to make more money treating sick patients than they would keeping populations healthy.

Over the last three decades we have made gradual progress in changing the incentives to encourage more preventive and higher quality care. Hospitals are paid for bundles of service, e.g. heart bypass surgery and rehabilitation, and are on the hook for preventable complications such as post-operative infections. Some health systems provide standard per member per month (or PMPM) payments to health care providers to keep their populations healthy and care for them when they are sick. The Affordable Care Act mandates that health insurance pay for certain 'essential health benefits,' including preventive care such as pediatric well-child visits.

The Geisinger experiment and public health research show that we should be investing a great deal more in keeping Americans healthy and preventing illness in order to reduce suffering and death. And save money.

In its current form, the Republicans' health care reform bill, the AHCA, gives millions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy and drops essential health benefit coverage.

This will cost us.

'Smoking is good for you' and other deadly lies

Imagine you knew nothing about climate change and wanted to learn the basics. What would you do? Many people would search the internet. When I google "climate change," the first page of results includes the NASA and EPA websites on climate change. Exploring the EPA website, I quickly found A Student's Guide to Global Climate Change where I read the following:

"The Earth is getting warmer because people are adding heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere, mainly by burning fossil fuels. These gases are called greenhouse gases. Warmer temperatures are causing other changes around the world, such as melting glaciers and stronger storms. These changes are happening because the Earth's air, water, and land are all linked to the climate. The Earth's climate has changed before, but this time is different. People are causing these changes, which are bigger and happening faster than any climate changes that modern society has ever seen before." [emphasis added]

On the same website there is a simple animation showing how human-produced carbon dioxide is contributing to global warming. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt should check out his own agency's website. He might learn a thing or two before hitting the delete key.


Pruitt -- and the rest of the GOP climate change deniers -- are not cautiously skeptical of climate science, as they would have you believe. They are willfully ignorant of it. In the most egregious and deadly case of privatized profits and socialized costs since Big Tobacco, Pruitt and Company are handing the fossil fuel and car industries billions of dollars in profits at the expense of our children's lives.

Climate change is already affecting the health of children around the world: increased morbidity and mortality from extreme weather events, new exposures to vector-borne infectious diseases such as malaria, food insecurity as a result of crop failure, increased morbidity and mortality from allergic and respiratory disease as air pollution increases and warm seasons lengthen, mental health impacts of increased migration and social strife due to climate change.

Big Tobacco has taught us that corporations -- and their shareholders -- are willing to lie and cheat their way to bigger profits, even if it means their customers are getting sick and dying from using their product. Big Tobacco lied about the health impacts and addictiveness of cigarettes. They aggressively marketed (and continue to market) to youths to get them hooked on tobacco. They manipulate their product to maximize addictiveness. And they spend millions of dollars lobbying to keep the rules in their favor.

Meanwhile, 480,000 Americans die each year (1,300 per day) of tobacco-related causes and we spend $170 billion annually in tobacco-related health care costs and lose $156 billion in lost productivity due to illness and premature death. This is after decades of work by scientists, physicians, and public health advocates fighting Big Tobacco and making significant progress to expose their lies.

Big Oil is Big Tobacco's protégé. Aided by mouthpieces and enablers like Pruitt and Company, Big Oil is peddling lies about greenhouse gases and climate change. They are spending millions on lobbying for favorable rules and subsidies. They are making huge profits while making us sick.

But, whereas tobacco has the power to sicken individuals and families, fossil fuels -- and the global warming they cause -- are sickening whole populations and our planet.

So when Pruitt says, "there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact [of carbon dioxide], so no, I would not agree that it's a primary contributor to the global warming that we see," what he really means is, "my fossil fuel buddies' billions in profits disagree with overwhelming scientific evidence that we are causing climate change."

His willful ignorance is killing us.

Trump Revokes Transgender Student Protections

This policy move, which runs directly counter to the directive of Congress under Title IX, harms a vulnerable group of American school children who already face stigma and fear. It does not come as a surprise that Jeff Sessions, who has a long history of discrimination, was the leading force behind this cruel change in policy. Obama's former Ed Secretary Arne Duncan and Catherine Lhamon, former assistant secretary of education for civil rights, have a well-written piece in the WaPo asking where will pro-discrimination policies in education stop.

Update (2/25/17): I learned today (thanks, Laura!) of an anti-LGBT group called the American College of Pediatricians that is promoting outdated and discriminatory views on transgender youth and supports the Administration's directive. To be clear, this is not the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), of which I am a fellow, and which takes the opposite view. The president of the AAP, Fernando Stein, issued the following statement on 2/23/17:

"The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) opposes guidance issued last night by the Departments of Justice and Education that eliminates protections for transgender youth in public schools, no longer allowing them to use restrooms corresponding with their gender identity. 

"Transgender children are already at increased risk for violence, bullying, harassment and suicide. They may be more prone to depression and engaging in self-harm. These children need acceptance and affirmation, not stigmatization. As a result of last night's action by the Departments of Justice and Education, the simple act of using the restroom may subject transgender students to further harm. Policies excluding transgender youth from facilities consistent with their gender identity have detrimental effects on their physical and mental health, safety and well-being. No child deserves to feel this way, especially within the walls of their own school.   

"The federal guidance withdrawing and rescinding protections for transgender students sends a message of exclusion and intolerance, which transgender students encounter enough of already in their day- to-day lives. The AAP voices our strong opposition to the decision by the Departments of Justice and Education and renews our support for the legal protections offered through Title IX.

"Transgender children should be supported, nurtured and cared for, whether in their homes, in their schools or through policies enacted at the state and federal levels."

Pruitt to head the EPA

If Republicans, minus Susan Collins, R-ME but with the help of Joe Manchin III, D-WV and Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND (both coal states), and newly-minted EPA head Pruitt get their way -- rolling back the Clean Power Program, relaxing CAFE standards, expanding coal and oil extraction -- tens of thousands more American children will have preventable asthma attacks, causing them suffering (and in some cases death), and costing the American public tremendous health care expenses. And that is just the beginning. #MoralBankruptcy

Catching Up -- Lightning Round

Executive Orders

1. January 23 -- Reinstating the global gag rule (restricting international funding for organizations that provide abortions or information about abortion). Bad for the health, independence, and self-determination of women around the world.

2. January 23 -- Freezing the federal workforce (hiring freeze). Hard to see how the federal government can do all that it does effectively if it cannot hire people to do the work. Of course, dysfunction may be the goal. There is an exception for positions related to military, national security, and public safety. Some of our biggest and/or notable public safety threats are climate change, drinking water contamination (Flint, MI and other cities), and guns. So, naturally, I expect the hiring freeze does not apply to the EPA, NOAA, OSHA, HUD, USDA, HHS. And there will be new hires at the CDC to research gun violence.

3. January 24 -- Expediting environmental reviews on infrastructure projects. The opposite of a health-in-all-policies or kids-in-all-policies approach. Profit for crony capitalists now; environmental cleanup ... someday.

4. January 25-27 -- (1) The wall, (2) Pursuit of undocumented immigrants (includes defunding so-called sanctuary cities), (3) Visa and refugee program reforms (includes so-called Muslim ban). These actions hurt immigrant and refugee children and their families. They are unnecessary for increasing our security and improving our economy. They will instead worsen our security and decrease our economic growth potential. Children don't migrate, they flee. Here is an excellent article on the harms to children of Trump's immigration ban.

5. January 27 -- Strengthening the military. Already more than half of our discretionary spending goes to the military. Imagine if we spent just some of that money on foreign aid, education for women and girls around the world, climate change research, global renewable energy infrastructure, and diplomatic missions. If we did that, I think our need for military defense would be much less. And the world would be better off to boot.

6. January 30 -- Reducing regulation. An arbitrary mandate that for each new regulation, two are struck. This is premised the false notion that regulations, by definition, are bad. Robert Reich makes excellent arguments that refute this idea in his book, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and in abbreviated form in this blog post. Regulations are instrumental to a functioning democratic capitalist society. Regulations protect us from corporate abuses that privatize profits and socialize costs (see #7 below). Regulations protect our life savings, keep our food supply safe, and decrease water and air pollution. This is not to say that regulations should not be reviewed, or that some may be outdated or ill-conceived. But they are not inherently bad.

7. February 3 -- Financial system regulations and the fiduciary standard. This is likely to relax regulations that were put in place during the Great Recession to prevent future financial calamities. Steve Mnuchin, the new treasury secretary, profited from the housing bust. Imagine who might gain from the next preventable financial collapse?

 

Congress

January 13 -- Budget Resolution clearing the way to repeal the ACA. Since this passed, Republicans in Congress seem to be having difficulty replacing the ACA. That's because it is a good policy that helps millions of Americans.

January 24 (House) -- Permanent ban on the use of federal funds for abortions or health insurance that covers abortions. This will make health care less affordable and reproductive health care less attainable. Each year, hundreds of thousands of women make the heart-rending decision to have an abortion. That number is declining, probably due to increased access to contraception through the ACA. Instead of restricting access to legal abortion we should expand access to contraception and comprehensive sex education. When unintended pregnancies are carried to term, we should support moms and families with the social safety nets they need to thrive.

February 2 -- Repeal of the stream protection rule. Makes it easier to mine coal and pollute ground and surface water. No explanation needed here, except to say: If we want to decrease the impact of global warming, instead of burning more coal, we need to sprint in the opposite direction and invest heavily in renewable sources of energy. We cannot continue to support an industry that is contributing to our planet's demise. Clean coal isn't.

February 3 (House) -- Repeal of rule that addresses waste generated during oil and gas production. See above. Once again privatizing profit and socializing costs, spoiling our planet.

February 7 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of Betsy DeVos to be Education Secretary. Belief in the value of public education is a prerequisite for this post. Fifty Republican Senators and VP Mike Pence thought otherwise. Of note, DeVos had donated $26,000 to Republicans on the Senate HELP committee from 2014 to 2015.

February 8 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General. The nation's top law enforcement official is now someone who has a sketchy history of racism, is a hardliner on immigration, and is a climate-science skeptic. He is also so close to President Trump that his independence cannot be trusted.

February 10 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of Tom Price to be Secretary of HHS. A list of Price's qualifications to be HHS Secretary: he is a physician. All indications are that Price will be an instrument of destruction on the ACA and Medicaid, harming low-income children and children with special health care needs.

February 13 (Senate) -- Approval of nomination of David Shulkin to be Secretary of the VA. Shulkin is highly qualified for the job. The VA has very little impact on children. However, children of vets will benefit if and when their parents get improved access to mental and physical health care.

Immigration Ban

"... They see us [Americans] as having opportunities. But again, they're thinking of survival. They're not thinking of dreams like the American. You know -- how we think."  -- Kenia, speaking about her family in El Salvador, This American Life, episode 608, aired January 20, 2017

"The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war."  -- President George W. Bush, September 17, 2001

It is astonishing and disheartening to me that, fifteen years after 9/11, we have learned so little about terrorism -- and thought so little of our own values -- that we could elect a President who has called for a "total and complete" ban on Muslim immigration to the United States. It is not surprising to me that President Trump has acted to fulfill that promise. In doing so, he has caused confusion, heartbreak, and outrage.

In my view, the President's rash immigration ban constitutes two major wrongs. First, it is counterproductive. Every analysis I have seen concludes that this action will bolster recruitment to terrorist organizations more than it will prevent domestic terrorism (which is not at all). Second, and more grave, it is un-American. This immigration ban is anathema to American ideals of freedom and liberty and our identity as a nation of immigrants.

The "freedom" that Republicans pined for when Obama was president is awfully hard to identify under the Trump administration. Freedom of the press? The press is the "opposition party" and "should keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while." Freedom of religion? Not if you are a Muslim refugee. Land of opportunity? If you are lucky enough to work at a company that gets a bespoke $7 million tax break or have an extra $100,000 for your golf club membership. 

Fortunately, millions of Americans have loftier ideals and higher expectations than our president. Millions of us still believe that America can be both safe and open -- and that closing our borders, instead of making us stronger, makes us smaller and weaker and alone. We are exercising our rights to free speech and freedom of assembly to protest Trump's policies. Lawyers are volunteering time to defend immigrants. Business leaders are speaking out. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are donating to the ACLU. State Department officials are voicing dissent. The Acting Attorney General is defying Trump's executive order.

I hope that people around the world will see that our liberal democracy can thrive even after electing a president with paranoid thoughts and bigoted ideology.

Update: Acting Attorney General Sally Yates was fired by President Trump a few hours after defying him.

Advancing the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines

The Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines were both halted by the Obama administration but were given new life by President Trump this week. These pipelines would promote the extraction of oil from Canadian oil sands and the Bakken Shale in North Dakota. Moving oil by pipeline is probably safer than moving it by rail, but an even safer option is not to move oil at all and instead leave it in the ground. By further developing fossil fuel resources, rather than promoting energy conservation and development of alternative energy resources (e.g. wind and solar), we are moving in the wrong direction on climate change. Coming on the heels of the warmest year on record, Trump's actions demonstrate a stark disregard for the health of our planet and our children in favor of corporate profits.

Trump's First Hours

During President Trump's first few hours in office, he signed an executive order to "relieve the burdens" of Obamacare. This is Trump's opening salvo on the Affordable Care Act, Obama's signature health care reform bill that has extended health insurance to millions of Americans resulting in our highest insurance coverage rate in history and providing financial security for millions of American families.

Welcome to Kids In All Policies

Welcome to my nascent website/blog! My goal with this website is to lead conversations about the well-being of children in public policy decisions. I have been thinking about doing this kind of thing for some time, but now feel spurred to action by the Trump administration's early and aggressive assault on our children's future, starting with climate change denial and repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

I will attempt to document most policy actions and my immediate impressions of their impact on children in real-time (i.e. within a week) as I truly believe that virtually every action affects kids. I also want to keep a record - for me, and for the world - of everything President Trump and the Congress do to harm children to serve as a guide for rapid reversal of those policies when Trump is no longer in office. Meanwhile, with any luck, by increasing scrutiny on the administration and Congress, we can decrease the harm that is done and maybe even do some good. As I have time, I will circle back to policy issues with more in-depth thought and analysis.

A disclaimer: I am a fairly well-informed citizen and pediatrician with public health training. I am not a policy expert and I certainly have areas of strength (health policy) and areas of weakness (international trade, for example). I will be reading and listening and learning as I go. Finally, all content and opinions on this website are my own, unless otherwise cited.

Thank you for reading this blog. I welcome polite comments, discussion, and suggestions.

Peter