Getting to Well: Women and the Health Care Battles

Part: 5

Health Reformers Say Women Win, No Matter What

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Democrats are making expanded access to health care coverage for women a large part of the final push for health care overhaul legislation before the end of the year.



WASHINGTON (WOMENSENEWS)--After 10 months of legislative wrangling to advance a health care reform bill, Democrats are making a big push for U.S. women's support to meet President Obama's goal of passing some sort of reform this year.

Their message: No matter which congressional version passes, health reform offers a historic opportunity to eliminate serious discrimination against women by insurers.

"We need this insurance reform to bring fairness to the insurance market and particularly for women," said Rep. Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, at an Oct. 6 Capitol Hill press conference.

"It is imperative that we implement health care reform that eliminates the practice of categorizing such things as pregnancy, Caesarian sections and even domestic violence as pre-existing conditions," said Rep. Donna Edwards, a Democrat from Maryland, at the same press conference on women and health care. "If left unchecked, these discriminatory practices of the insurance industry would effectively eliminate coverage for millions of women."

Congress has advanced five health care reform bills beyond the committee level, leaving Democrats to meld them into one collection of elements.

Linda Douglass, spokesperson for the White House Office of Health Reform, says they are conducting a vigorous outreach program to woo women.

On Oct. 8, that program included nine Democratic senators who took to the Senate floor in succession to say women would benefit from all versions of health care legislation under consideration.

Women's Groups Join Effort

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has dispatched Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and first lady Michelle Obama to portray health care reform as particularly beneficial for women at various events. One such event was a Sept. 18 White House meeting with about 120 leaders of various women's advocacy groups.

Women's advocacy groups are also joining the mobilization effort. Last week, for instance, the National Women's Law Center launched "Being a Woman is Not a Pre-Existing Condition." The initiative includes promotional videos and a Web site that updates the status of women's issues in the health care bills.

Insurers in a few states have expanded the definition of pre-existing conditions to include those with a history of victimization by domestic violence because it can result in higher medical costs.

"This is a shameful practice," said Edwards, a former director of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, based in Washington, D.C. "It must stop and it will stop when the president signs into law this year health care for all Americans."

In a 2008 report, the National Women's Law Center found insurance policies sometimes legally discriminate on the basis of gender. Women are charged higher premiums than men of the same age for the same coverage. Many individual insurance policies exclude coverage for common medical needs specific to women, such as maternity care.

Both men and women face insurer rating systems that set premiums based on age and health status, which can make policies unaffordable to most people, according to the report's authors.

Coverage Based on Care, Not Gender

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat and a member of the crucial Finance Committee, said during an Oct. 6 conference call that coverage should be based on general types of care, such as prevention or hospitalization, not on "gender or other factors that make no sense in the context of insurance." The conference call was organized by the Democratic National Committee.

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