The focus of resistance activities in the (just three!!!) weeks since the inauguration has shifted between the controversial Cabinet nominees, the shocking scandal surrounding former National Security Advisor Flynn, the new reports of Trump campaign’s Russia ties, myriad false statements by White House officials, and national security concerns over the Mar-a-Lago “open air Situation Room.” However, it is important not to lose sight of a key goal of Congressional Republicans—the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Early pressure by Indivisible and other groups has prompted House Speaker Ryan and other top Republicans, including the President himself, to back away from calls for the immediate repeal of the ACA without replacement legislation. The Republican caucus has so far been unable to agree on replacement policy, and a vote on ACA repeal is delayed for now. But delay does not mean the battle is over. Anyone who cares about the 20 million individuals now at risk of losing their health insurance needs to keep pressing legislators to reject any repeal effort without a suitable replacement.
In addition to the insurance-related benefits, the ACA provides some important protections to a group that even Republicans in Congress should be eager to protect—breastfeeding mothers returning to the workplace. Workplaces under the ACA are required to provide breastfeeding mothers guaranteed (unpaid) time to pump breastmilk and a safe, sanitary, and private place to pump for the first 12 months after a baby’s birth. Workplace protections for breastfeeding moms are an essential component of public health policy given the clearcut societal health benefits of breastfeeding for both infants and mothers.
According to the United States Breastfeeding Coalition, “Monumental health and economic gains can be achieved through policy and practice changes that ensure American families have the support they need to reach their personal breastfeeding goals. A 2016 study of both maternal and pediatric health outcomes shows that optimal breastfeeding could prevent 3,340 deaths, $3 billion in medical costs, and $14.2 billion in costs of premature death, annually!”
Providing such protections also makes good business sense. Workplaces that give workers a time and place to pump are able to retain proven talent who otherwise might seek employment elsewhere or quit altogether to feed their babies. Sadly, without breastfeeding provisions, new moms are unlikely to achieve the 12 months of breastfeeding recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The ACA also requires insurance companies to cover breast pumps, parts, and storage bags, making necessary equipment more accessible to working mothers. Most insurance companies must also cover the expenses of seeing a lactation consultant, an otherwise cost-prohibitive visit for many. If the ACA is repealed with no replacement in place—or a replacement that does not include these or similar provisions—all of these protections and valuable resources disappear. Breastfeeding mothers will no longer be guaranteed pumping time. Their jobs will not be protected if they take time out of their day to pump, and they may be relegated to pumping in a bathroom or other unsanitary location, if they can even afford the equipment they need to pump milk.
These workplace protections should be favorable provisions of any ACA replacement. However, my research into replacements proposed by the President, the Speaker of the House, and now HHS Secretary Tom Price has uncovered absolutely no mention of breastfeeding or lactation. When we talk to our representatives about our opposition to ACA repeal, we should remind them that repeal will not just deny insurance coverage to tens of millions, but it will also carry unintended consequences and threaten the health and/or livelihood of millions of working mothers and their babies.
Article contributed by Claire Barnett – a working, breastfeeding mom and TX21 Indivisible member in San Antonio