Women should rally around the Medicare-for-All bill introduced in the House of Representatives earlier this year.
Medicare for All as proposed in HR 1384, along with its counterpart in the Senate, would benefit women in several essential ways. Because health insurance coverage would no longer be tied to one’s employment or marital status, women could leave abusive relationships or toxic workplace environments without losing health insurance for themselves or their families.
Our healthcare system is surely broken when some women feel compelled to marry, stay married or remain in a harmful job just to retain their health benefits. This outdated arrangement is a form of subjugation that has no place in our wealthy, democratic nation today.HR 1384 would create a publicly funded healthcare system that would guarantee everyone in the U.S. comprehensive health coverage while leaving the delivery of care mostly private.
It would also include coverage for doctor visits and hospitalizations, vision, dental, mental health, and even long-term care. This means women would no longer be saddled with some of the caretaking responsibilities that often befall them when a parent or other relative becomes severely ill.
Due to centuries of discrimination and asymmetric domestic duties, women and especially women of color are more likely to have low-paying jobs without health benefits. And when women don’t have access to health care, it not only affects them. Their children and other family members who rely on them often suffer, too.
Women who are uninsured or underinsured are especially vulnerable when they become pregnant or new mothers. The United States spends more on health care than other countries, yet our maternal and infant death rates are among the highest of large, wealthy nations. This means that American mothers and babies are not receiving the health care they sorely need.
Dr. Aleksandar Rajkovic, an obstetrician and the husband of one of the authors of this piece, has witnessed the effects of our collapsing healthcare system firsthand. While working in Texas years ago, he encountered an uninsured pregnant patient who experienced abdominal pain for 36 hours before she fell unconscious and was brought to the hospital. Concerned that she and her laborer husband could not afford an emergency room visit, she had told her husband the pain would pass. Sadly, the woman ended up dying of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy, which could have been avoided had she gone to the hospital sooner.
People are suffering and even losing their lives because they can’t afford health insurance at all, or must forgo treatment even though they’re insured, due to exorbitant out-of-pocket costs. Tens of thousands of people die each year in the U.S. due to being uninsured. The Medicare for All Act of 2019 (HR 1384) would ensure no one is forced to choose between essential medical treatment or going bankrupt, and it would be funded through modest progressive taxes, based on what people could afford to pay.
Medicare for All as proposed would also guarantee women reproductive choice. The ability to determine one’s family size and the spacing of one’s children is critical to women who must consider their economic reality, relationship status or career concerns. Yet today, women increasingly face obstacles when it comes to their freedom to choose.
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey recently signed the strictest abortion law in the country, making it a felony to perform the procedure even in cases of rape and incest. Governors in several other states have approved abortion bans once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks in pregnancy. These moves represent the latest, pernicious assault on women’s reproductive rights since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.
The Medicare for All Act of 2019 would also allow federal funds to be used for abortion and other reproductive health matters. (The Hyde Amendment currently prohibits federal funding of abortions except in extreme cases, effectively limiting a women’s constitutional right to choose and affecting poor, young women of color the most.) The decision to terminate a pregnancy or not affects not only a woman’s reproductive health but also her overall health. Thus, it’s one that should be made by her in consultation with her doctor – not politicians.
How many more mothers, daughters, and sisters will needlessly die under our healthcare system before we stand up and say enough is enough? While HR 1384 is now in our legislators’ hands, the choice to keep silent or voice support for it is now ours.
On which side of history will you stand?
Kirsten Magnuson is chair of Health Care for All-California
Dr. Ana Malinow is a past president of Physicians for a National Health Program.