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Kennedy Op-ed: Planned Parenthood’s vital role in health care

Congressman Joe Kennedy III and Kate Walsh, The Boston Globe

Today 62 million Americans struggle to access a primary care physician. Nearly half of them are low income, one-third come from rural communities, and almost 40 percent are minorities. This lack of access permeates our entire health system, where 80 percent of adults who visit emergency rooms in a given year do so because they have no other way to seek primary care. And it has profound public health consequences, since individuals who can’t utilize primary care suffer disproportionately from chronic disease and serious illness.

Knowing this, we are disheartened by Congress’s attempt to defund an organization that has dedicated itself to meeting community health needs for nearly 100 years.

Planned Parenthood is a key provider of primary care for women, men, and families across the country. In red states and blue states, crowded cities and rural towns, people come to Planned Parenthood health centers every day for diagnostic tests, counseling referrals, family planning, and a range of preventative and acute care services. Planned Parenthood is there for the elderly woman who needs a cancer screening and for the single dad taking his son to the clinic for a sore throat. It is there for the working family trying to find financial stability before having another child and for expectant mothers seeking prenatal care. It is there for the one in five American women who will receive care at a Planned Parenthood health center during her lifetime.

In July, an organization that lied about the nature of its work released deceptively edited videos to attack the Planned Parenthood affiliates who supply tissue samples for lifesaving medical research. Three congressional committees and more than 10 states have undertaken extensive investigations to address the allegations that Planned Parenthood illegally sold these tissue samples for profit. Not one of these investigations has produced any evidence to substantiate the allegations.

Nonetheless, the House of Representatives voted last week to stop federal funding for Planned Parenthood. That’s every dollar that supports the 400,000 screenings for cervical cancer and 500,000 breast exams Planned Parenthood performs each year. Every dollar that pays for the 4.5 million HIV and STI tests they administer across the country. Every dollar that delivers primary care visits, family planning sessions, and birth control prescriptions to populations that would struggle mightily to access these essential health services otherwise.

Planned Parenthood’s federal funding translates into care that cannot be replaced in a system already stretched to the brink. For every patient served by a community health center today, there are nearly three residents of low-income communities who remain without access to primary care. Over half of Medicaid providers are not accepting new patients. At a time when more than half of the infants born in this country are born to women eligible for Medicaid, Planned Parenthood is a vital provider of prenatal health services. Fifty-four percent of Planned Parenthood health centers are located in regions with a shortage of health care professionals or in rural or medically underserved areas; four of the seven Planned Parenthood centers here in Massachusetts meet those criteria.

There is no doubt that Americans hold a wide range of deeply and sincerely held beliefs about abortion and reproductive health care, both in their private lives and in the realm of public policy. But those are different conversations for a different day. Like all health care providers, Planned Parenthood is prohibited from using any taxpayer dollars to provide abortion services unless the patient’s life is in danger or she is a victim of rape or incest. If the facts ever showed that Planned Parenthood or any other medical provider illegally sold tissue samples for profit, we would want to see those providers held accountable for violations of federal law and medical ethics. But Congressional investigations have strayed from a clear assessment of medical facts and morphed into a political attack on something that should transcend partisan ideology — the ability of women, low-income families, and those living in rural or underserved areas to access basic health care.

Five years ago Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. In doing so, we made Americans a simple but profound promise: that the richest nation on Earth would no longer treat health care as a luxury or a privilege. Thanks to family health centers like Planned Parenthood, this country is able to keep its word to hundreds of thousands of people who our health care system too often and too easily excludes. Behind clinic doors, you won’t find criminal activity or a political battleground; you’ll find physicians who work tirelessly and without fanfare to make quality care accessible to every American. You’ll find families trying their best to keep themselves and their loved ones happy, healthy and safe. To defund Planned Parenthood is to turn our back on those doctors, these families, and our promise.

Congressman Joe Kennedy III represents the Fourth District of Massachusetts. Kate Walsh is president and CEO of Boston Medical Center.

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Tackling addiction at its source

Jim Hand, The Attleboro Sun Chronicle

NORTON – Frightened by stories of opiate addictions, U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III said that when he had shoulder surgery a couple of years ago, he refused the doctor’s prescription for Percocet.

Kennedy said he has heard so many stories as a congressman and former prosecutor about people becoming addicted to prescription drugs that he didn’t want to take a chance. He said he asked for a lower dose and a smaller supply.

He said he would rather endure a few days of pain than run the risk he could get hooked.

His comments came Monday in a meeting on the spread of opiate addictions with about 20 staffers at North Cottage Program, a residential treatment center in Norton.

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Kennedy Op-ed: Providing equal access to justice for all

Congressman Joe Kennedy III, The Fall River Herald News

A young single mom diagnosed with breast cancer whose employer fired her after she asked for time off to continue chemotherapy treatments. A grandmother facing the loss of her family home and the shelter it provides for her kids and grandkids. An African-American nurse who objected to racist and discriminatory treatment at work and was fired.

These stories, and hundreds more like them, are the mission of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, a legal aid organization providing free representation and legal services to low-income families across the region. During a visit this summer, I heard about their efforts to help local folks facing everything from foreclosure and bankruptcy to domestic violence and homelessness.

These advocates face an uphill battle from the moment they get a case. A consistent struggle to secure funding has stretched organizations like SCCLS to the brink. Due to lack of resources, SCCLS estimates that it has approximately one attorney available for every 6,500 people across the Cape and SouthCoast that may qualify for their assistance. The challenges quickly multiply. Poverty can compound legal problems, meaning many of the people SCCLS serves are facing myriad difficulties. Language, technology and transportation all create additional barriers, making it nearly impossible for low-income families to access legal services, regardless of the price tag.

These are challenges I saw firsthand as a student attorney in my law school legal aid clinic. Working in the housing court that covered some of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, fear and uncertainty clouded the faces of every client I met. Oftentimes these individuals found themselves in court through no fault of their own; fighting to protect an apartment they had faithfully paid rent on each month because their landlord couldn’t keep up with mortgage payments and the lender was threatening to kick everyone out. Standing next to them, I saw our justice system through their eyes: an endless and impossible maze, built only for people who could afford to hire expensive lawyers to lead them through it.

Across the country, low and middle-income Americans struggle through this maze every day. While our justice system generally guarantees access to an attorney for anyone facing criminal charges, that promise does not extend to civil matters. And civil cases make up the bulk of legal challenges most American families are likely to face, including eviction, bankruptcy, health care disputes, workplace discrimination, child custody battles, restraining orders, divorce and domestic violence. As a result, many of our most vulnerable citizens are forced to walk into courtrooms and attempt to navigate our legal system completely alone — usually facing opponents with more money, more power, and more connections.

Those things aren’t supposed to matter in the United States justice system. But by failing to ensure everyone has access to legal services and fair representation, we’ve tipped our sacred scales in the wrong direction.

Fortunately, national organizations like the Legal Services Corporation and essential local advocates like SCCLS, MetroWest Legal Services, Greater Boston Legal Services, and the Boston Bar Association — just to name a few — have stepped up and helped fill the gaps, matching qualified lawyers with clients who need help most.

However, due to a lack of resources and funding, those organizations are forced to turn away nearly two-thirds of Massachusetts residents desperately searching for legal assistance. Nationally those numbers are no better; it’s estimated that only one-fifth of low-income Americans receive the civil legal aid they need and deserve.

That lack of representation has a real, concrete impact on the outcome of those cases and the lives of our most vulnerable citizens. When clients walk into courtrooms facing eviction without a lawyer, two-thirds of them lose their home. Conversely, of the families and individuals with legal representation, two-thirds keep theirs.

Today the number of Americans living below the poverty line is higher than ever before. Despite that, federal funding for civil legal aid, specifically for LSC, is a consistent target for cuts. Taking inflation into account, the amount of funding provided in 2013 was the lowest it has ever been in the nearly 40 year history of the LSC. And while we’ve seen modest gains since then, House Republicans just passed a spending bill that would gut current funding levels by an additional $75 million.

The wreckage of the economic collapse has left our country wrestling with powerful and pervasive economic inequity. And the federal government’s failure to ensure that low and middle income families have access to representation within our justice system is only compounding the growing divide between those thriving in our modern economy and those being left behind. It’s time for Congress to stand firmly behind increased funding for legal aid and ensure every American is afforded the protections our justice system promises.

U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, a Democrat, represents Massachusetts’ 4th Congressional District.

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Kennedy opiate bill passes House

Jim Hand, The Attleboro Sun Chronicle

A bill co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III aimed it making it easier for the medical community to track the use of pain medication has passed the House.

Kennedy, D-Brookline, said the bill will help combat the misuse of opiates by providing tools for monitoring prescription drugs.

There is a belief by some in the medical community that the use of powerful prescription opiates for pain relief can lead to addiction and illegal use of drugs such as heroin.

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Rep. Joe Kennedy III tries to make his own name in family business

Asma Khalid, WBUR

WASHINGTON — When Joe Kennedy III won a seat in Congress in 2012, he was getting in the family business. One Kennedy or another had served in elected office for more than 60 years in a row, until Rhode Island U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy left office in 2011.

Joe Kennedy III is the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy and the son of former Massachusetts U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy II. But he wants to prove he’s a lawmaker in his own right.

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