National Women's Law Center
The “What Women Want: Equal Benefits for Equal Premiums” hearing convened by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee yesterday largely focused on the twin health care reform goals of access to affordable insurance options and ensuring that all plans include adequate coverage. Several NWLC staffers were there for this much-anticipated opportunity to raise awareness on how the current health care system fails women.
As Senator Mikulski said in her opening remarks regarding the need for health reform, women “pay more—in higher premiums—and get less.” Many of the Senators in attendance focused on the fact that women are paid less than men, yet are routinely charged significantly higher premiums for inadequate coverage that doesn’t even include maternity care. Senator Mikulski succinctly stated what we as women know: “Health care reform is a must-do women’s issue.”
NWLC Co-President, Marcia Greenberger, testified regarding “the unfair and discriminatory practices of the health insurance industry, including gender rating, the exclusion of health care services that only women need, and pre-existing condition denials.” Her testimony at the hearing came as we're preparing to launch our new campaign, Being a Woman Is Not a Pre-Existing Condition (check out that website on Tuesday for more!). Marcia’s testimony and the campaign focus on the discrimination women face in the individual market, where women are unfairly charged higher premiums than men, even though the plans usually do not include maternity care, and in the group insurance market, where workplaces with predominantly female workforces pay significantly higher premiums.
Women of low and middle incomes are unable to afford to insure themselves and are forced to make medical decisions, including the decision about whether to have children, based on what kinds of coverage they can obtain, as testified to so eloquently by two mothers who attended the hearing. Amanda Buchanan, a young mother from Weiser, Idaho, testified that she no longer has health insurance herself because she had to forego it in order to pay down the hospital bills after her son was born -- hospital bills that resulted because her health insurance did not cover maternity care. She ended her testimony by calling for a public option. Peggy Robertson, a mother from Centennial, Colorado, testified that she was denied health insurance because she had delivered her son by caesarian section and was informed by an insurance company that they would cover her only if she underwent a sterilization. She is now unable to have a third child because she cannot afford to pay for a further caesarian and is unable to obtain an insurance policy that provides sufficient maternity coverage to cover these costs.
Also testifying were James Guest, President and CEO of the Consumers Union, Janice Shaw Crouse, Director and Senior Fellow at Concerned Women for America, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute and Director of the Center for Employment Policy, and Karen Ignani, President and CEO of America’s Health Insurance Plans.