The politics of health care (5×8 – 3/5/13)

Abortion fight takes center stage, if teachers taught in hip hop, computer gamers unravel mysteries of the brain, can workers be trusted when to work, and poverty in black and white.


Just when people were mostly ignoring the Minnesota health exchange issue, it jumps ahead of almost every other issue generating buzz at the Capitol. Overnight, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed the bill but added an abortion provision that is making Minnesota politics stop in its tracks and pay attention. The abortion issue in Minnesota usually does.

First, a definition: A health insurance exchange is a state-run marketplace that allows consumers without health coverage to shop for the best deal. People pay their own money for it (although some will be using federal subsidies to pay for it). Minnesota politicians are debating setting up a state system and if it doesn’t work, the feds will set up a one-size-fits-all-market. The Minnesota website is already open.

Legislators lined up yesterday with over 100 amendments to the bill in the Minnesota House, but the one that’s got all the attention is one that passed, banning coverage for any abortion procedure.

Here’s the exact amendment:

“Subd. 3. Abortion coverage prohibited. (a) No abortion coverage may be provided by a qualified health benefit plan offered through the Minnesota Insurance Marketplace created pursuant to the Affordable Care Act, Public Law 111-148.

(b) This limitation shall not apply to an abortion:

  (1) performed to prevent the death of the mother;

  (2) when the pregnancy is the result of criminal sexual conduct as defined in section 609.342, clauses (c), (d), (e), item (i), and (f), and the incident is reported within 48 hours after the incident occurs to a valid law enforcement agency for investigation, unless the victim is physically unable to report the criminal sexual conduct, in which case the report shall be made within 48 hours after the victim becomes physically able to report the criminal sexual conduct; or

 (3) when the pregnancy is the result of incest, but only if the incident and relative are reported to a valid law enforcement agency for investigation prior to the abortion.”

Up until now, just about everything about the new health care law has involved whether it’s the government getting involved in the private health care decisions of people. So there’s a little irony that anti-abortion foes used the bill to get involved in the private health care decisions of individuals.

Or is it? The press release from Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life makes clear they were ready for the accusation.

“Abortion is not health care and it should not be among the procedures covered in the state exchange’s insurance plans,” the executive director Andrea Rau said.

The inevitable court challenge to the amendment will be a fascinating clash. In the 1995 Doe v. Gomez decision (available here), the Minnesota Supreme Court required the state to provide public funds for abortion services for poor women. Significantly, perhaps, the ban on public funds that was struck down in that case, had nearly identical exemptions as the amendment that was attached yesterday.

Since individuals (mostly) pay their own money to buy private insurance under the state exchange concept, the ban would mean individuals spending their own money on insurance could not obtain abortion coverage, but people spending the state’s could.

Minnesota is not alone in adding the abortion restrictions. At least 20 other states have done so. But most of those states don’t have Doe v. Gomez.

Related: U.S. women dying younger. No one is quite sure why.

Wisconsin women’s mortality rate worsens in central, northern parts of state (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)


What if teachers taught in a language urban kids speak?


If researchers ever conquer the final frontier — the human brain — maybe they’ll have a computer game player or two to thank. Scientists at MIT, for example, are trying to map the neuron connections to the eye and they know just the people to help.

“Anyone sitting in their living room can just fire up a web browser and look at images of neurons, and help us figure out how they’re connected,” Sebastian Seung tells NPR today.

Increasingly, Joe Palca says, scientists are taking data, putting it in the form of games, and asking gamers to help explore it and figure it out.

More science: The human body — in Google Map form. (


This would be a good day to log on and get some work done from home instead of sitting in a snowbound commute. It’s too bad, perhaps, that that’s so 1990s. More and more companies, apparently, want their minions in their cubicles and aren’t shy about saying so, now that Yahoo’s CEO has issued the order to end the days of telecommuting.

Writing in the Kansas City Star, Barbara Shelly says it’s the right call, despite the howls of nerdy protest.

Some of us rarely pause for conversation, much less lunch. A while ago, a senior partner in a law firm told me he had to order his associates to go to lunch with clients and each other, just to get away from their desks and get some perspective. I hear this from many people in the workplace. The yield is abundant, but the harvest is bland and uninspired.

Perhaps a shake-up is called for. Bring the telecommuters into the office so they can get to know their co-workers by something other than an email address. And send the office workers home for a nap, which research indicates will boost both productivity and performance.

Either way, the workplace and the people served by it would be better off if more companies — and workaholic employees, too — could bring themselves to trade a bit of productivity for innovation.

But the Pioneer Press’ Julio Ojeda-Zapata reports a Minnesota ad agency disagrees.

Adopting a middle ground, Fast Horse in Minneapolis has invested a great deal of effort and expense to create an appealing office but gives its employees the leeway to work elsewhere.

“Wherever and whenever they feel they can be the most productive is up to them,” said Jorg Pierach, the agency founder. “They’re responsible for meeting their obligations, and they can do this on their own terms.”


In 1968, famed photographer Gordon Parks, an adoptive Minnesotan, shot a photo essay for Life Magazine. “A Harlem Family,” became the faces of urban poverty for millions of Americans. Whatever happened to the Fontenelle family? The New York Times’ Lens blog provides the answer today. Of the eight children, only one lived past 30. He became a friend of Parks, but died three days before a current exhibit of Mr. Parks’ essay opened.

It’s an incredible story:

Those images jolted Life’s readers, whose response to “A Harlem Family” was immediate and overwhelming. Hundreds of letters poured into the magazine’s offices expressing sympathy and pledging money. Encouraged by the response, Mr. Parks urged Life to contribute enough additional money to buy and furnish a new home in Springfield Gardens, Queens, for the Fontenelles.

“Most important,” Mr. Parks wrote in “A Hungry Heart,” another memoir, “the magazine helped Norman get a job.”

But the Fontenelles’ new beginning came to a sudden end. A little over a year after the story was published, Life ran an editor’s note under the headline, “Tragedy in a House that Friends Built.” Late one night, the house had gone up in flames. Norman and his son Kenneth died in the fire; Bessie and the other children survived. The house and everything in it was destroyed. The family had only lived in the home for three months.

Related: Life and death in Harlem (Mail Online)

Bonus I: Because of a University of Cambridge professor, people anywhere in the world can “explore, compare and combine elements from the composer’s music, comment on it as they go, and ultimately construct their own version of the Chopin work to an extent that has never before been possible.”

Bonus II: Does the Air Force really need a band anyway?


During a key scene in the play “Venus in Fur” the lead actress lights up a Marlboro from her purse and takes a drag, tilting her head backward while exhaling a long stream of smoke. Those stage moments could become harder to pull off in Minnesota if lawmakers amend the state’s smoking ban. Today’s Question: Should performance art continue to be exempted from the smoking ban?


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Minnesota’s Senate Leaders join The Daily Circuit to give their take on the recent budget forecast and how that changes the tax discussion at the capitol, and discuss other issues making their way through the Legislature.

Second hour: The debate over workplace flexibility.

Third hour: How things have changed – and stayed the same – for women today.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, speaking at the Commonwealth Club of California about her life and her memoir, “My Beloved World.”

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – Pro sports and sexual orientation.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – TBD