Healthcare reform: A battle of the sexes?

That's how a new campaign frames the issue. One thing is for sure: It's a feminist issue

By Tracy Clark-Flory
October 23, 2009 2:01AM (UTC)
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The National Women's Law Center this week launched its new campaign for healthcare reform along with a bold spot (video below) that declares: "Health care isn't fair: Men make the rules." NPR sizes this up as yet "more evidence of a stepped-up effort by women's health advocates and female Democratic senators to frame the health care overhaul debate, in part, as a battle of the sexes."

The "battle of the sexes" refrain makes me cringe, because healthcare reform benefits everyone -- but there is no denying that our current system is particularly hard on women and, as the first lady recently said, they're being "crushed" by it. Health insurance companies often blatantly discriminate against women based on their sex: The NWLC reports that 25-year-old women have been charged as much as 84 percent more than their male contemporaries for health plans that don't even offer maternity coverage. What's more, a mere 13 percent of health plans offer maternity coverage to 30-year-old women. Being a woman is considered such a liability by insurance companies that "in most states, it is common for a female non-smoker to be charged more than a male smoker" -- again, simply because she's a lady.


If somehow you haven't chucked your computer out the window in outrage, read on. The reason for this disparity is many insurance companies engage in gender rating, which means "charging same-aged women and men different premiums for identical health coverage; exclusions of coverage that only women need, like maternity care; and rejecting applicants for insurance coverage for reasons that include status as a survivor of domestic violence," as the NWLC puts it. Other reasons for rejecting applicants include pregnancy, past Cesarean sections and being a victim of rape. Thus, the campaign's tagline: "Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition."

Gender rating is already banned in 11 states, but that's not enough. As NPR reports, "Both House and Senate overhaul proposals being considered would prohibit insurance companies from varying premium cost based on gender, as well as health status and occupation, and from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition." That's something that would benefit everyone -- men, women and entire families. The current proposals also seek to substantially expand Medicaid coverage. Again, that would benefit all, but perhaps especially women, who currently make up three-quarters of Medicaid clients. However, the details of just how much help the expansion would offer women, particularly when it comes to the contentious issue of reproductive health, is still up for debate.

To influence that debate, you can watch the video, pass it along and click the "contact congress" button below.


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