This week in wins: Indiana knocks down major obstacle to health care

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Abortion rights advocates also scored a big win in Alabama and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers moved to protect marginalized communities ahead of the 2020 census.

Judges struck down Alabama’s hyper-restrictive abortion law and North Carolina's gerrymandered congressional map, while Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a bill safegaurding mental health care in Michigan.

Here's all the good news you may have missed this week:

Indiana backs down from requiring Medicaid recipients to work

On Thursday, Indiana announced it would suspend its Medicaid work requirements in the face of a legal challenge in federal court. 

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The ruling is the latest in a string of setbacks for the program. Federal judges have already struck down similar requirements in Arkansas, Kentucky, and New Hampshire. 

The work requirements, which no previous administration has permitted, state that Medicaid recipients must also prove that they are employed or meet a federal disability requirement. While touted by supporters as a way to lift recipients out of poverty, the research shows that work requirements don’t help struggling families and end up kicking people who do meet the requirements off of necessary aid.

Despite numerous court rulings striking down work requirements, Trump’s Medicaid chief, Seema Verma, has continued to authorize states to impose them. 

However, in an exchange with Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing last week, Verma could not cite a single study supporting the administration’s claim that work requirements improve health outcomes and reduce poverty.

Prior to joining the administration, Verma, hired by then-Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, transformed Indiana’s government health care system into one of the most punitive in the nation, with mandatory payments to private companies and six-month lockouts for recipients who missed them. 

Chicago teachers’ strike ends with some important victories

The Chicago teachers' strike is over after Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Teachers' Union reached an agreement Wednesday. 

According to the terms of the deal, the city will hire hundreds more support staff, such as nurses and counselors — one of the teachers' central demands. The city will also raise teachers’ salaries by 16% over the next 5 years and spend millions of dollars to reduce class sizes.

"In the interest of our students and our parents who have been suffering, it was important to me to make sure that we got our kids back in class,” Lightfoot said. “Enough is enough and so, in the spirit of compromise, we agreed."

The strike comes after a wave of nationwide teachers strikes in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, and North Carolina. Their efforts made 2018 the biggest year for worker militancy since 1986.

Wisconsin governor signs executive order to count marginalized people in census

The 2020 federal census will be used to distribute a half trillion dollars in federal aid and will redraw electoral maps nationwide. That’s why Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) signed an executive order Monday creating the Complete Count Committee for the 2020 Census, which aims to both raise awareness of the census’ importance and reach out to “hard-to-count communities” — including immigrants and refugees, low-income families, people of color, and individuals with disabilities — who are at high risk of being uncounted. 

An estimated 600,000 Wisconsinites fall into this category.

“At the end of the day, the census isn't just a headcount,” said Evers. “It's about visibility, voice, and value.”

North Carolina's 'extreme partisan gerrymanders' ruled illegal

On Monday, a bipartisan panel of judges in North Carolina blocked the state from using its congressional map in the 2020 elections. 

The map, which has been called “the worst gerrymander in modern history,” was drawn by Republicans, who explicitly admitted that they did so to secure the GOP’s electoral advantage in the state. 

In 2018, Democratic House candidates received 1.77 million votes — less than a 100,000-vote difference from Republican candidates who received 1.85 million. And yet only three of the state’s 13 representatives are Democrats.

"For nearly a decade, Republicans have forced the people of North Carolina to vote in districts that were manipulated for their own partisan advantage," said former Attorney General Eric Holder. "Now — finally — the era of Republican gerrymandering in the state is coming to an end."

Federal judge stops Alabama from making abortion a felony

Earlier this year, Alabama passed a law making abortion a felony at any stage of pregnancy — with no exception for rape or incest. The bill recommended 10 years in jail for doctors who performed an abortion with a potential maximum 99-year sentence. 

But on Tuesday, a federal judge blocked the law from taking effect.

Planned Parenthood praised the judge's ruling. "This is not only a victory for the people of Alabama — it's a victory for the entire nation," Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said to CBS News. "We said it from the start: this ban is blatantly unconstitutional and we will fight it every step of the way."

Michigan governor signs bill to keep mental health workers on the job

On Tuesday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed House Bill 4325, which guarantees that licensed mental health counselors can still diagnose and treat patients.

The Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs has argued for years that state regulations do not allow certain mental health counselors to diagnose or treat their patients. In September, the department proposed a “clarification” of the public health code that would have barred 10,000 licensed counselors from practicing, thereby jeopardizing access to mental health care for 150,000 Michigan residents. 

Hundreds of counselors and advocates protested the rule at a hearing in early October. Their advocacy led directly to the legislature taking rapid action to pass HB 4325 later that month.

“We must continue to work hard to ensure every Michigander has access to critical mental health care, and this is a step in the right direction,” Whitmer said in a press release.

Check back next week for more good news.