A Woman Is Not A Pre-Existing ConditionOur readers outside the U.S. may want to just skip over this post.

I’ve been watching what passes for debate over health care reform in the U.S. for months now, and it’s making me increasingly cranky. I suppose I’ve known for years that political decision making is heavily influenced by lobbyists and other financial interests, but it has never been so crystal clear to me as it has been this summer as I’ve watched so-called progressive and democratic congress members fight against doing what’s right. Americans need health care reform, and especially American women need it. Not only do women have distinct health care needs, women are more likely than men to require health care their whole lives, including care related to reproductive and menstrual concerns. That is not “extra”.  As Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) forcefully reminded Sen. John Kyl (R-Arizona), the sad fact that 60% of insurance plans don’t cover basic maternity is relevant to everyone.

Furthermore, women are frequently decision-makers regarding health care for their whole family, especially in woman-headed single-parent families (which are approximately 23% of all families in the U.S.). According to the Department of Labor, women make approximately 80% of all family health care decisions. Women are also more prone to certain chronic conditions, and on average, use more prescription drugs than men.

Yet in most of this country, insurers are allowed to set premium rates that take sex into account: these “gender ratings” mean that women (and businesses with predominantly female workforces), are often charged more than men for the exact same coverage. Sometimes the gender penalty is as much as 140% more. In a few states, a woman can be legally denied health insurance if she has been a victim of intimate partner violence; it’s a pre-existing condition. Now reports are emerging that women who have been sexually assaulted are denied insurance coverage for rape exams and medication and therapy for trauma.

And you don’t want to get me started on affordability issues; I’ve witnessed the struggle to keep health insurance first-hand in my own family, helping my parents pay for their coverage as their rates were jacked up each year. Rather than just rant about the insurance industry and the state of health care in the U.S., I’m going to leave you with these links to recommended reading:

Sharon Lerner, The Nation, Why Women Need Healthcare Reform

Nancy Folbre, economics professor at M.I.T.: Health Care Reform is a woman’s issue

Michelle Chen, Air America, Being A Woman Is A Pre-Existing Condition: Domestic Violence and Health Care

Ezra Klein, Washington Post, You Have No Idea What Health Costs

Matt Tiabbi, Rolling Stone, Sick and Wrong (Tiabbi’s trenchant analysis is one of the best pieces I’ve read about the need for health care reform in the U.S.):

Fully $350 billion a year could be saved on paperwork alone if the U.S. went to a single-payer system — more than enough to pay for the whole goddamned thing, if anyone had the balls to stand up and say so.

The National Women’s Legal Center has several excellent articles about health care, health care reform, and women’s needs (NWLC reports are the sources for much of the data I cite above), including this brief intro (.pdf) and this longer statement (.pdf). Visit their Reform Matters site for more.

You can also visit their educational campaign site, complete with easy links for emailing your representatives in Congress. Because being a woman is not a pre-existing condition.

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