Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Women Have Most to Gain from Health Care Reform! Don't Take Away Our Rights!

The health care reform bill is the most important social policy since Medicare and Medicaid. It will disproportionately help women because women are currently less likely to have health insurance. Women are more likely to work for small firms, in nonunion jobs, and part-time employment, all of which come with weaker or no benefits. Most women depend on their husbands for health insurance: 79% of couples have a single policy, and 75% of these policies are through the husband’s employment. Women face, what’s called in economics, “marital lock”, where they are encouraged to stay married for the simple reason of maintaining their health insurance. Women, who currently obtain their own policies either through work or the individual market, pay much higher premiums than men. Discrimination in insurance by race was outlawed decades ago, but discrimination by gender continues to be commonplace in health insurance.

Both the house and senate health care bills would outlaw discrimination by gender in insurance by regulating the companies. The bills will also have an individual mandate; everyone will be required to have health insurance. This will alter the pool of the individual market to include millions of healthy people, theoretically making the individual market a reasonable place to purchase insurance, even for people with pre-existing conditions. The structure of employer-sponsored health insurance benefits men over women, so, any policies that lead us in the direction of universal health care will disproportionately help women.

However, republicans and blue dog democrats are using health care reform as an opportunity to slash away at reproductive rights. They are taking legislation that is necessary for women’s rights and adding anti-choice measures to it. Unfortunately, Congress voted in favor of both the Stupak amendment (House) and the Nelson amendment (Senate). Right now, members of the party leadership are meeting in conference to decide what will be in the final bill. If they decide keep the anti-abortion measures, it will be a huge loss for women all across the country. Even if we get health care reform, which is a huge social justice and women’s rights issue, we still lose decades of hard won reproductive rights.

There is no other single medical procedure being targeted in health care reform. Abortion is the only one. It is unfair to target a procedure that only affects women. Abortion is legal! Members of Congress need to be reminded of that.

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