Health care reform must account for women's health needs

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How much have you heard about women in the healthcare debate? I am uncomfortable with how little I have heard, and even more uncomfortable with what I do hear on the rare occasions it is discussed in the media, such as an ad from late August/early September, using scare tactics against women with breast cancer to build opposition to reform. Here is a great clip from Rachel Maddow where she dismantles that ad and has a discussion with the President of the National Organization for Women about how women’s reproductive rights are not being adequately accounted for in the healthcare debate

Just one example of how the Baucus healthcare bill introduced last week does not adequately address the healthcare needs of women is that the bill, as blogger Dana Goldstein puts it, “punishes single people—especially single moms.” The bill will give employers incentives to hire married, rather than single, job applicants or employers may encourage their employees to use their spouse’s healthcare coverage instead. This is because Baucus’ bill does not include a mandate for employers to provide healthcare to their employees, but rather asks employers to reimburse the “affordability credits” the government provides to individuals without healthcare. This creates incentives where an employer would probably prefer to hire someone who already has healthcare from, say, their spouse, or to hire someone who doesn’t have children, so the employer will have lower reimbursement costs. The result is that “employers weigh whether a worker earning $15,000 or $20,000 a year is worth paying an extra several thousand dollars for, because of this subsidy payback requirement. Why not just hire someone without kids? Or someone married?” writes Goldstein. 

Another area of concern for women is that within Baucus’ Finance Committee bill, “there would be a guaranteed choice in each health insurance exchange between at least one plan that does not offer abortion services beyond rape, incest and the life of the mother, and at least one plan that does, allowing consumers to choose their preference. Those private plans that do offer the services would have to segregate funds internally, so that only private dues, and not federal subsidies, pay for actual abortion services(emphasis added), Time reports.  

My concern arises from the latter part of the above statement, where it becomes clear that private insurance companies would have to set funds aside internally for abortion coverage, which is not exactly what I would call “allowing consumers to choose their preference”. Time also reports that “under the current private health care system, a significant share of private health plans--numbers range from 46 percent to 87 percent, depending on the survey--offer abortion services.” But if the bill changes the insurance market to accommodate insurance companies that do not provide abortion coverage, the “46 percent to 87 percent” of plans that do cover abortions could decrease, the extent to which we can’t predict. The ACLU recently defended a woman who struggled to have access to reproductive healthcare in Kentucky. Such stories should become less, not more, common, as healthcare reform legislation moves forward, and with Baucus’ healthcare proposal, it is not at all clear that these stories will become less common.

If these prospects for women’s healthcare concern you, you can call your Senator to remind them that healthcare reform must account for women’s health needs. The Senate switchboard number is (202) 224-3121.

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