See, here’s the thing. This health care debate? It’s really important. And even more so for women.
Consider these words from the press release summarizing Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s speech at a press conference yesterday:
Women will continue to face discrimination in both coverage and costs if health reform fails.
How are women discriminated against? Allow me to crib a couple of basic points as enumerated by USA Today:
- insurance companies are allowed to charge women more for the same policies as men in 40 states and the District of Columbia;
- in those same states and D.C., insurance companies can charge businesses with mostly female employees higher group rates;
- many companies don’t provide maternity coverage as part of their basic plans (perhaps you heard Rep. Senator Jon Kyl, of Arizona’s sensitive take on this issue? “I don’t need maternity care and so requiring that to be in my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.” Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich, called him on the jackass remark, replying “Your mom probably did.”);
- insurance companies can exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions; having had a C-section is one of them;
- if a woman is pregnant when she buys an insurance company, insurance companies can deny maternity coverage;
- 8 states and D.C. allow insurance companies to deny coverage to victims of domestic violence.
While all that is incredibly infuriating and appalling, what’s worse is that, inevitably, abortion rights will be singled out, as they have been for years, THE go-to tactic for dividing and conquering. It’s already co-opting the news: both the NY Times’ David Kirkpatrick and the Boston Globe’s Ellen Goodman have weighed in. Granted, access to abortion is an important issue, but there is so much more than that at stake. Re-read those items above and consider: in those 40 states, there’s a distinct disincentive to hiring women. Non-employer-insured women who’d then have to buy their own coverage will then likely pay more for a policy which may or may not cover them during pregnancy, when health care is critical.
In case you’re not adequately pissed off, consider this, written in June of this year by Brigette Courtot, a Policy Analyst with the National Women’s Law Center:
In 2007, the majority of all bankruptcies–a whopping 60%–had a medical cause. For the most part, those filing for medical bankruptcy were well-educated, middle-income earners, and had health insurance when they filed. Researchers also found that being female significantly increases the odds that a person will file a medical bankruptcy–no surprise there, since we have plenty of evidence that because women have lower incomes and greater health care needs than men, they are more likely to face unaffordable medical bills and debt, and to delay or skip necessary care because of cost.
Wow, right? Feministing said it well:
And I know that health care is a feminist issue. Because women are more likely than men to go without needed care. Because nearly twice as many women as men access health care as a dependent–in other words, they’re not covered under their own name. Because low-income women and immigrant women and women of color have a disproportionately difficult time accessing regular care. Because women are more likely to have patchwork-style careers, dropping in and out of the workforce because of family care obligations, which makes dependence on employer-provided health care exceptionally hard. Because a larger percentage of women than men have a hard time paying their medical bills.
But the thing is, it’s also critical for less obvious reasons–reasons alluded to in the above mention of our “patchwork-style careers”. Health care is yet another insidious part of the “You can be anything you want!” mirage, rendering many of our “choices” illusory. Opting in or out? Is there really an option? And what about ditching the corporate grind to follow our passion? Getting back to Pelosi, take a moment to let this sink in:
It is great for our economy to have the dynamism of a work force that is not job locked but that can move from job to job or start their own business or be self-employed. All of this is about the dynamism of our economy and our competitiveness in world markets not to have the anvil of heavy and ever-increasing medical expenses make us less competitive.
At its core, the feminist movement of the 70s was about changing institutions. And somewhere along the way, we lost that focus. And today, when we’re talking about women’s declining happiness in the face of greater opportunity as though it were a paradox, we’re missing a huge point: our opportunity is not supported by our institutions. And until that happens, I think we’re going to remain largely unsatisfied.