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Health-care reform a win for women

BY SAMANTHA MILLER | MARCH 26, 2010 7:30 AM

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“Being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing health condition,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after the passage of the health-care reform bill in the House.

Upon hearing that statement, I hoped it wasn’t spin. I hoped what I perceived as one of the great injustices in health care was finally being addressed. And from what I can tell, it is.

Currently in the United States, women spend 68 percent more on health-care insurance than men, according to the National Women’s Law Center. This is largely due to greater out-of-pocket costs for reproductive care such as monthly birth control, annual gynecological exams, and mammograms. These services are pricey, yet the alternatives are even more so. Without annual gynecological exams, cancer can go undetected, and without birth control — well, you can figure that out.

Despite the necessity of these services, many women are opting out. According to 2008 numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 68 percent of women more than 40 years old had a mammogram in the two previous years and only 18 percent of women 18 years old and over had had a Pap smear within the previous three years.

Women also pay higher premiums for health insurance. Companies determine this higher premium by “gender rating” conditions associated with being a woman, according to the law center. If you are capable of becoming pregnant, of going through childbirth, you’re paying more. And if you have had a cesarean section, a “pre-existing condition,” you’re in even worse luck: Insurers may refuse to pay for your future C-sections or reject your application altogether.

In America, approximately 30 percent of live births are performed by C-section, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

On top of the discrepancy in health-insurance costs due to their sex, women are less likely to have the money to pay for it. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, women are paid 77 cents on the dollar to men in the same position as well as are already less likely to have a paying job.
This is where I think the health-care reform bill got it right.

Under the legislation, gender rating will be prohibited, albeit not immediately — this aspect of the bill goes into effect in 2014. Women will also benefit from the bill’s ban on denying health care to those who have a pre-existing condition, which in a woman’s case could be a C-section in her past.

From what I’ve gathered to this point, it’s a mixed bag for sure. The original intentions of this reform bill were shattered and messily put back together in a fashion to appease enough legislators. It was like using tape to make a jigsaw puzzle stick together — the pieces were all mixed up, but the original picture is still in there, somewhere.

Though I admit I am no political sophisticate (but who really is?) I have taken a close enough look at this monumental bill to have an opinion, on one part of it at least. From how these puzzle pieces are assembled, I can make out a picture, and it’s promising.

I feel this is a great step in the direction that will see the end of one sex having to pay more due to, as Pelosi put it, the pre-existing condition of being a woman. This isn’t to say that every procedure associated with being a woman is covered — a compromise the House made to get the bill passed required banning the use of federal subsidies to purchase a health-insurance plan that includes coverage for abortions — but that’s a contentious topic I’m not even going to try to touch on now.

Well, there it is. The one aspect of this jumbled conglomeration of a health-care plan I feel I just may have a grip on. Now I’ve got only about a million more pieces to figure out.


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