Women & Health Care Reform - The Debate Continues

By Christine Cupaiuolo — September 29, 2009

Women received a serious wake-up call Friday when Sen. John Kyl (R-Ariz.) questioned why his insurance should include maternity care. A comment left on my post asks, “Why require this in EVERY plan? Won’t that just raise costs? Men don’t need it, working feminist women who don’t have children certainly don’t either.”

Hmmm. Without taking that bait, I will say that the commenter, as well as the senator, apparently is unaware that insurance works on pooling of risks. While it might be interesting to see what Kyl’s personal a la carte health insurance plan might look like, such individual choice would not be practical or affordable so long as insurance companies seek to maintain the same level of profit. Not to mention that what one person thinks he or she needs today can change overnight. Can you imagine all the “pre-existing condition” denials?

There’s also the issue of wanting to improve health outcomes for all mothers and children, but clearly that’s not Kyl’s priority.

Already, insurance carriers are free in most states to charge women and men different premiums for individually purchased insurance under a practice known as gender rating.

Nancy Folbre, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, notes that women are often discriminated against when they try to buy individual health insurance, in part because pregnancy and family planning require more health care. “The typical American woman who wants to have two children will spend about five years being pregnant, recovering from pregnancy or trying to get pregnant, and about 30 years trying to avoid unintended pregnancies,” Folbre writes in a post at the The New York Times Economix blog.

Maternity isn’t the only way in which women are penalized. Looking at health care coverage over a lifetime, Folbre makes a clear case for why reform is essential for women, starting with the point that for many women, their insurance is tied to their husband’s work. A job loss or divorce leaves them vulnerable to having no insurance. (This is one of the reasons Our Bodies Ourselves is in favor of a single-payer system, because coverage would be independent from marriage or employment.)

Folbre continues:

Although fewer adult women than men lack health insurance, they seem to be more affected by insurance-related problems, including inadequate coverage. A Commonwealth Fund study released last May found that about 52 percent of working-age women, compared to 39 percent of working-age men, reported in 2007 that they had to forgo filling a prescription, seeing a specialist, obtaining a recommended medical test or seeing a doctor at all as a result of medical costs.

In striking testimony to financial vulnerability, more than one-half of all bankruptcies related to medical costs in the United States in 2007 were filed by female-headed households.

Women in their 50s and early 60s who are married to older men face a distinctive risk — loss of access to their husband’s employer-related coverage when he makes the transition to Medicare but they are not yet old enough to be eligible. The resulting disruption in coverage often has adverse effects on their health.

Women are important health care providers as well as consumers. Over 59 percent of informal, unpaid caregivers are women, and women devote significantly more time to the care of sick, disabled and elderly family members than men do. Indeed, such commitments help explain why women are more likely than men to work part time and to exit the paid labor force for longer periods of time.

Cheers to Cindy Pearson, executive director of National Women’s Health Network, for adding this comment to Folbre’s post:

You’re so right! Thanks for this well-written commentary. Women’s health activists have known all this for a long-time & many of us are organizing in support of health reform. Remember Our Bodies, Ourselves? They’re just one of many women’s health groups working on this issue. Check out Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need, SisterSong, National Women’s Health Network and others.

Plus: In other health care news today —

* Katherine Seelye is live blogging the Senate Finance Committee debate on the public option. Democratic senators Charles Schumer of New York and David Rockefeller of West Virginia have proposed separate public option amendments (view Rockefeller’s and Schumer’s, both pdf’s). The debate was postponed from Friday. You can watch live here.

* David Kirkpatrick writes about how the health care reform debate has become a fight over abortion.


2 responses to “Women & Health Care Reform – The Debate Continues”

  1. When you present it like this, it makes me really feel like we’re stuck in the middle of the 19th century or something. “Separate spheres” still reins in healthcare ….

    In so many ways, this healthcare debate is so infuriating because we are arguing so much about basic rights, basic elements of a civil society. It feels like all of these oppositional forces are trying to pull us down into an Ayn Rand-esque anarchy, where it’s survival of the privileged.

  2. This working feminist needed maternity coverage twice, and was told it was a “preexisting condition” once. I was also told that my insurance wouldn’t cover birth control. And 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. I wonder if this has anything to do with birth being the most common reason someone is admitted to the hospital?


Comments are closed.