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The Democrats' Missing Message For Women and Health Reform

Posted Oct 19 2009 10:02pm

Health care reform measures currently making their way through Congress would radically alter health care coverage for women in this country, for the better - and American women don't know. 

Why? 

Democrats and President Obama aren't speaking to us. The message that health care reform would eradicate gender inequities currently at the core of our health insurance system isn't trickling down to the average woman in the United States. According to an article on Politico about this missing message yesterday,

“There has been a lot of attention this year on the need for health reform,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said last week, “but there has been too little focused on how health reform will work to improve the health and well-being of more than half our nation’s population — America’s women.”

There are dramatic changes underfoot - changes that address heinous discrimination about which commentators and advocates writing on RH Reality Check have been discussing for weeks now. In the Democrats' plan, Politico notes:

Maternity care would be guaranteed. Insurance companies could no longer charge higher premiums for women than men.

And insurers now allowed to label a Cesarean section or even domestic violence a pre-existing condition to deny coverage would be barred from the practice.

If Democrats need anyone to get on board with this plan, it's women. Celinda Lake, one of the most respected Democratic pollsters in this country, says that women are conflicted about health care reform measures at the moment but they are precisely the ones making the majority of health care decisions. From Politico:

“Women are the ones who are going to pay attention to health care, women are the swing vote on health care, women are the ‘influentials,’ meaning if women like the plan, then the men in their lives like the plan,” Lake said. “So in that sense, it makes sense to target women.”

Advocacy organizations, individual activists, progressive media and others are working hard to ensure that Senators and others on the Hill get the message: women are not pre-existing conditions and "gender rating" is no longer an acceptable form of discrimination in this country. 

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At a Senate Committee hearing last week, chaired by Senator Mikulski, called "What Women Want: Equal Health Care for Equal Premiums", legislators heard eye-opening testimony from women on the inequality inherent in the system. One woman, after having had a c-section, was told by her insurance company to get sterilized or lose coverage.

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Another one testified that she had to drop her $5,000/month premiums for maternity care after she went into debt for her pregnancy and birth costs with said insurance company. Robin Marty, writing on this site, told readers of her exponential increase in premium payments while pregnant as her insurance company apparently saw her pregnancy as an "unhealthy lifestyle choice".

Jodi Jacobson, on RH Reality Check, writes about the eight female Senators who stood up on the floor of the Senate last week to tell their colleagues in Congress: Enough is enough!:

Eight women senators spoke strongly and succinctly about the disparities in access to affordable health care in the United States, each one hitting on separate but related issues.  The Senators also appeared the same evening in a brief segment of Larry King Live.  Though King consigned them to a couple of minutes at the end of an otherwise largely vacuous show, the Senators nonetheless made clear that the practice of denying women coverage based on the "pre-existing condition" of being a woman would no longer fly.

The word is spreading within the halls of Congress, then, that to oppose health care reform measures is to oppose the elimination of serious discrimination against women in insurance coverage. Sen. Sherrod Brown calls the health care reform effort to get rid of gender inequity "historic" and compares it to the successful legislation outlawing unfair and unequal treatment between men and women in the workplace, in sports, and in education. But, still, most regular women around the country haven't heard the message that health care reform measures will benefit you. 

So, what's next?

Well, Politico reports that Linda Douglass, head of the White House Office of Health Care Reform, says that more events targeting women are in the works as part of a vigorous outreach program. 

But what else can we do - as activists, advocates, writers, women? Tell our stories. Share our experiences. I didn't know that some women, during a home birth, beg not to be transferred while in labor, to the hospital, because of the possibility of crushing medical costs. Does this sound like an experience you've had? Write us and let us know: editor@rhrealitycheck.org. Were you denied coverage of a VBAC (vaginal birth after ceserean)? Tell us your story or jot down a note and let us know it's happened to you. Did your insurance company drop you when you became pregnant? Denied you coverage because you are the survivor of domestic violence? Has it been impossible for you to find coverage for maternity care services? Again, let us know at editor@rhrealitycheck.org.

If we share our stories and our experiences, we can all work together to inform and educate women across the board. Health care reform measures will help eliminate the gross gender inequity in our current system but will only happen if women know what's at stake. 

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