Wednesday, November 25, 2009

John Larson's Forum on Women's Health Care

On Tuesday morning, a forum was held by Congressman John Larson (1st district) to discuss the impact of health reform and the house bill on women's health care. Congressman Larson, who has been a longtime advocate for women's rights and issues during his six terms in Congress, voted for the house bill on November 8th and recognizes it as one of the most crucial and historic pieces of legislation in generations. I have to admit, my preoccupation with the ban on abortion coverage has been a distraction from the truly excellent aspects of the bill and Congressman Larson helped point some of those out to me. For example, women, who pay on average 48% more for health care than men, will no longer do so. Women, who are more likely to be in part-time or temp jobs that don't offer benefits and with this health care bill, will have unfettered access to health care coverage. Pre-existing conditions will no longer be a basis on which coverage can be removed, which is more likely to impact women since women are more likely to have asthma, diabetes, and conditions that require (expensive) equipment. In general, women would have better access to affordable health care, which is not the case now. 56% of people who declare medical bankruptcy are women, according to Teresa Younger, the executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women and one of the panelists. Research also shows, according to panelist Judy Stein, that women are overwhelmingly the financial decision-makers and in charge of health care in their households.

Patti Russo, the vice president of the Yale Women's Campaign School and former commissioner of PSCW, moderated the forum and besides Congressman Larson, there were three fabulous panelists. The first who spoke was Dr. Ellen Andrews, the executive director of the CT Health Policy Project, and she addressed both the status of women and their health care in CT, and the impact of the health care bill on women. She raised an important issue that I mentioned in my previous post: how we will develop a workforce to support the steep hike in insured people, because the bottom line is, insurance for all does not mean access for all. Newly insured people who don't drive or don't have a car, for example, need a clinic in their community.

Judy Stein, the founder and executive director of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, shared a personal story about a two-tiered struggle: one with breast cancer and the other with her insurance company. She had to FIGHT to get coverage of certain medications and went to more trouble than should be legal in order to get the health care she needed. And she's a medicare advocate! Her profession is working with insurance companies. It really resonated with me that the current climate in health care is stormy for everyone, even people who deal with health insurance issues for a living. Shifting gears a little, Attorney Stein agreed with an editorial by David Brooks that argues that the health care debate is about values. It's about whether we want to ease the anxiety of millions (millions!) at the cost of future growth and our vibrancy as a nation, or continue to ignore the plight of the uninsured in order to maintain our vitality. In the words of Mr. Brooks, "America would be a less youthful, ragged and unforgiving nation, and a more middle-aged, civilized and sedate one." How everyone at this forum felt about the values debate is probably obvious -- she concluded her talk encouraging everyone to get in touch with Senator Lieberman and urge him to support health care reform, woman-friendly health care reform in particular.

The third and final panelist was Teresa Younger, the executive director for the CT Permanent Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW), who declared health care as THE premier woman's issue. The forum was opened to several questions and comments made by the audience. One particularly interesting comment came from a gynecologist that shared that the research recommending less frequent pap smears is actually several years old (the timing is curious though, no?) and should in no way be interpreted as discouraging women from yearly OBGYN visits. It was really empowering to see some of Connecticut's leaders in women's rights and look at health reform through that specific lens. I feel like the Stupak amendment has put us in a situation where we are fighting for ok/decent legislation instead horrible mind-numbing injustice when it comes to women's access to abortion coverage, but I really do hope the legislation passes because it will improve the lives of so many people. We'll keep you posted!

No comments: