Living in interesting times…

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This week has been one for the history books. The fact that the Supreme Court, led by conservative Chief Justice Roberts, upheld the Affordable Care Act was a surprise to many (myself included).  This legislation will impact millions of citizens — just as the passage of the Social Security Act did in 1935 — another act that provoked intense controversy, a court-packing plan from President Roosevelt, and another major shift for the Supreme Court:

“Despite the intense controversy the court-packing plan provoked, and the divided loyalties it produced even among the President’s supporters, the legislation appeared headed for passage, when the Court itself made a sudden shift that took the wind out of the President’s sails. In March 1937, in a pivotal case, Justice Roberts unexpectedly changed his allegiance from the conservatives to the liberals, shifting the balance on the Court from 5-4 against to 5-4 in favor of most New Deal legislation. In the March case Justice Roberts voted to uphold a minimum wage law in Washington state just like the one he had earlier found to be unconstitutional in New York state. Two weeks later he voted to uphold the National Labor Relations Act, and in May he voted to uphold the Social Security Act. This sudden change in the Court’s center of gravity meant that the pressure on the New Deal’s supporters lessened and they felt free to oppose the President’s plan. This sudden switch by Justice Roberts was forever after referred to as “the switch in time that saved nine.” http;//

How ironic that it was another Justice Roberts who made the shift that saved another important piece of legislation, that will ultimately change health care in America, as Social Security changed retirement.

Just like Social Security, implementing the ACA will be a major challenge for the federal government and the states. My favorite provision is the one that calls for no co-pay for birth control, something I have to take to control my endometriosis (and which saved my fertility) and which insurance companies have given me grief for over the years — but that provision is still facing litigation.

Here are the key provisions:

Effective in 2010

Dependent coverage: Children can stay on their parents’ policies up to age 26. As of June 2012, 3.1 million young adults had gained insurance – a 75 percent rise in the proportion of insured adults ages 19 through 25.

Preventive benefits: New health plans must provide, without cost-sharing, certain preventive health services including vaccinations, mammograms, prenatal care, and contraception. By February 2012, about 54 million Americans had received preventive care under the law – and religious groups had filed lawsuits challenging the birth-control benefits.

Lifetime limits: Health plans can’t put lifetime dollar limits on coverage.

Preexisting conditions: People who can’t get health insurance because of continuing health problems could be covered by Preexisting Condition Insurance Plans (PCIP), a transitional program that will expire when insurance exchanges are available in 2014. As of April 2012, 67,000 people had enrolled in PCIPs, including more than 5,000 Pennsylvanians and about 900 in New Jersey.

Small-business tax credits: Employers with up to 25 employees, each earning less than $50,000, began getting tax credits for providing health insurance to workers. In 2014, the credits will rise to 50 percent of employer costs if coverage is bought through an insurance exchange.

Indoor tanning: A 10 percent tax was imposed on tanning services.

Medicare prescription drugs: Medicare recipients began receiving annual rebates or discounts on prescription drugs that ultimately will close the “doughnut hole” coverage gap. As of June 2012, more than 5.2 million seniors and disabled people had received checks and discounts worth $3.7 billion.

Effective 2011

80/20 rebates: Insurers must spend at least 80 percent of consumers’ premium dollars on medical care, and no more than 20 percent on administrative costs – or give customers a rebate for the difference. As of June 2012, 12.8 million Americans, including 576,000 Pennsylvanians, got $1.1 billion in rebates; the average per family was $151.

Medicare Preventive benefits: Co-pays and other cost-sharing are eliminated for Medicare-covered preventive services such as colon cancer screening.

Income-related premiums: Medicare recipients whose incomes exceed a certain threshold must pay higher premiums.

Effective 2012

Pharma Industry: Drugmakers pay new fees in January to help fund the law.

Hospital readmissions: Beginning in October, Medicare payments will be cut to hospitals with excessive, preventable readmissions.

Effective 2013

Medicare tax increase: The tax rate on wages for Medicare hospital coverage rises from 1.45 percent to 2.35 percent on earnings over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples.

Effective 2014

Individual mandate: Most citizens must be covered or pay a phased-in tax penalty.

Insurance exchanges: These online sites to buy insurance must be established by Jan. 1. Track your state at

Curbs on insurers: Annual coverage limits are prohibited, and insurance must be renewable regardless of health status.

Employer penalty: Employers with more than 50 employees who do not offer health coverage will be assessed a per-worker fee. – Marie McCullough

Having a life vs. having it all…

OK – so I have to comment on Anne-Marie Slaughter’s commentary in today’s Atlantic Magazine called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”.  My take away is that we need to be honest with ourselves, that the system isn’t set up for us to have high-powered careers and kids, unless we’re “superhuman, rich, or self-employed”.  Sometimes we have to choose.  I definitely agree with that sentiment — 3 years ago I resigned as Vice Provost so I could go back on the faculty and have a more flexible schedule for my kids (along with other reasons).  My timing was good, my kids were just getting to the point where they would need shuttling to their activities in the afternoon, and it also allowed me to pursue some projects that I had been wanting to do for a long time, like my company “Take Back the Trail” – there were a lot of factors that led to that decision, and I definitely don’t regret it.

I agree that policy needs to change so that more women can choose to take on leadership positions and not feel like they have to sacrifice their families to do it. I have a husband who has always been very engaged and a great father, which has allowed me to pursue many different types of leadership positions in my job as a professor and in the community.  But I probably have more influence in the community now, than I did as Vice Provost.  Anne-Marie Slaughter is still a very much sought after speaker and analyst.  I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that we find different ways to influence our world, whether it’s Austin, TX or the world of foreign affairs. We are still role models for women who want a life — that’s what I want.  A life that includes my husband and kids, my business, traveling, etc…

I’m not really sure what it means to have it all — but I do know that I have what I want, and I know that I will eventually be in a top-level leadership position, but it will be on my own terms. And besides true work-aholics, does anyone think that working 80-100  hours per week is part of “having it all”?

Women Leaders, Sisters and Friends

I arrived in Washington, DC a little over two weeks ago for a two month fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson Center – basically time to work on my research in a supportive environment, without the distractions of home.  I’m on my own until the first of July, when I will be joined by my husband and two boys.  These two weeks have already been an amazing experience — as I told my sister Rhonda, I didn’t know it, but it’s exactly what I needed. It’s the first time in 12 years (since I was pregnant with my oldest son) that I have had enough time to myself to reconnect with who I am and where I’m going. After a couple of difficult years (losing several family members and friends) I knew I needed time to catch up on my research, but what I really needed was time to catch up with me.

My visit started with a conference on “The End of Multiculturalism in Europe?” at the Wilson Center.  All of the topics discussed were issues that I had done research on and/or written about over the last (ahem) 20 years or so since I started graduate school in 1993.  I felt rejuvenated and met some new people working on this important topic.  It was a great kick-off for my time here. However, one of the last questions from the audience stuck with me — during the entire day of discussion of immigration, ethnic minorities and integration, the issue of women hadn’t come up at all.  The panelists agreed that this was a major oversight — and I realized that it was an issue often lacking in my own scholarship, although I had written back in my early years as a professor on women in politics in Europe.

I had the memorial day weekend to spend some time exploring DC and I saw some newer monuments, particularly the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial — and it turned out that his daughter Bernice King was signing books about her mother at the nearby bookstore.  I felt it was a privilege to shake her hand. As I visited the war memorials and thought about that chance encounter, I thought about the role of women in history, and in the midst of “rolling thunder” – the annual gathering of bikers to commemorate veterans — it struck me how invisible women were in the way we commemorate our heroes and our history.

It also turns out that I have recently finished reading Gloria Feldt’s book No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. It is a very powerful book which I can’t possibly do justice to in this blog post, but one of the issues she raises is having an understanding of women’s history.  It is incredibly important that young people understand the contributions of women and how far we have come — and how far we have to go (e.g., paycheck equality).  The recent assaults by conservatives on choice and women’s health have certainly caused me to be much more active in supporting Planned Parenthood and women politicians.  Of course we need to do more, and I’m not certain what that means, exactly, in my case, but I feel that I have taken a few important steps in the last couple of weeks.

First, I was invited to be a panelist on the PBS show “To the Contrary” which was a great experience.  I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to repeat it since I’ll only be in DC until the end of July, but I learned a lot from engaging with the other women on the panel.  In fact, it was from Debra Carnahan that I learned about the organization Vital Voices and their Global Leadership Awards, which was last Wednesday night. I decided to attend,  with few expectations about what would happen at the event.  It was truly overwhelming to see the amazing women (including presenters like Tina Brown, Diane Von Furstenberg, Chelsea Clinton) and the incredible things the award winners had done to improve life for women and children in their countries.  It reminded me of the power of women, the power of sisterhood, and that we are only limited by our fears (often valid), but with courage much can be overcome.

I have also been lucky to reconnect with friends here in DC, in particular a few women friends who I knew in graduate school.  I have always valued my friends, but for various reasons, including families and careers, we haven’t always maintained those connections. My friends have always been my supporters, and the ones to reign me in when my ego would start to get in the way.  It has truly been a blessing to be able to spend some time with these friends, getting to know their husbands and reminiscing about old times.

This will be an ongoing story, but so far, I feel that I have made some strong connections in DC, with my friends, myself, and even with my sisters, albeit from a distance. I feel compelled from reading Gloria’s book to try to find meaning in what I have done and will do here.  But for now I am trying to let myself be open to learn something from this idea of sisterhood, and what that will mean for me going forward.  I have been in several leadership positions over the last few years and I continue to play a role in my community in Austin — I hope to go back in August re-energized and ready for new roles and possibilities, with a little help from my sisters…

Jazz in a major key

I arrived in Washington, DC a  little over a week ago for a two-month fellowship at the Wilson Center and it has been an amazing experience thus far.  I have several friends in the area, and tonight made a few new friends.  I was lucky enough to get a ticket to the Ron Carter concert at Bohemian Caverns.  It had been a long time since I had been in such an intimate venue to see such a high-profile band. It was almost like going to church – in so many ways jazz really touches the soul and speaks to the heart.  I was by myself, which doesn’t bother me, but it’s nice to meet new people.  I struck gold tonight, the woman sitting to the right of me works at the National Endowment for the Arts, right across the street from the Wilson Center, and she’s German, so we had a lot to talk about. Another woman I met at the bar just happened to live right behind me on Capitol Hill.  We exchanged contact info, and after the show I hitched a ride with them back to our neighborhood and grabbed a drink at a local bar.  Turns out we have a lot in common, and she works just a couple of block from me.

I have a firm belief that the universe is always speaking to us.  Today’s events are a lot like jazz — melodies blend together, move apart, and the solos are key to holding a piece together. My love of jazz led to meeting new friends.  I also have to thank my mother, who taught me the gift of gab, and to be open to meeting new people and having new experiences…it’s a gift that never stops giving.

See me on the PBS show, To the Contrary:

and I have updated my web page, particularly the pictures at