What Would a Healthcare Plan That’s Good for Women Look Like?
By Ellie Reilly
The GOP’s especially bad healthcare plan — known as the AHCA in the House and the BCRA in the Senate — has been all over the news lately. It’s important for feminists to stand up against attacks like this that not only hurt women but virtually anyone who cannot afford to pay for healthcare out of pocket.
It’s extremely tempting to go completely negative on this. After all, GOP senators and representatives have shown little to no interest in listening to their constituents on healthcare issues. However, we should remember that going negative was, at least in part, the strategy that landed the GOP in a host of trouble, with internal disagreement and faction rivalries flaring up. Instead, I want to take a moment to look ahead to think critically about what a good healthcare bill that helps women would look like.
Healthcare Subsidies for the Poor
Health insurance is expensive. This has almost always been the case and likely always will be. The question is not whether healthcare can be made cheap, but whether the cost can be distributed in such a way that no individual is stretched beyond their means in order to pay for medical care.
The subsidies in the ACA and single-payer healthcare systems are some of the ways that governments have sought to offset the high cost of health insurance for poor people. Which method is best of the United States and her citizens is, as far as I’m concerned, up for debate and not an issue that I want to get into here.
The point is that, however you do it, a healthcare bill that supports women must provide aid to the poor. The reasons for this are twofold. First, in the United States there are more women in poverty than there are men. Data from 2014 shows that 16 percent of women suffer from poverty, compared to 13 percent of men. A compassionate approach to healthcare for the poor will not only be good for women, it will also make the lives of everyone who suffers from poverty a little easier.
Pre-Existing Conditions Must be Covered
Oh boy. Many millennials probably don’t remember the Wild West of healthcare that existed before the ACA was passed. Before 2010, it was not uncommon for individuals to be denied health insurance or charged impossibly high premiums due to health conditions that they suffered from prior to purchasing their plan.
Things became especially absurd when conditions like pregnancy or an abusive spouse were used as excuses to effectively deny healthcare to individuals. Indeed, as some have noted, being a woman could be considered a pre-existing condition. Any healthcare bill that claims to help women must provide protections for those with pre-existing conditions.
Women shoulder much of the reproductive burden in society. Even after birth, women are expected to keep up with nursing and, after that, to generally be the main childrearing force in many family units.
Many women are already rejecting this stereotype, but there is still much work to be done on a policy level. Given the wide range of complications associated with pregnancy, a comprehensive healthcare plan that guarantees reproductive health and doesn’t facilitate the denial of coverage to pregnant women is a necessity.
Mental Health Coverage
There is a frightening disharmony in the way that physical and mental health are treated in today’s world. While physical malaise is treated very seriously, mental illness is often shrugged off by friends, family members, and even medical professionals. Common recommendations that you might hear about depression include “you just need to change your mindset,” or “everyone feels like that from time to time.” The same advice would be ludicrous to hear about a broken leg.
It’s unsurprising, then, that health insurance plans are not very inclusive when it comes to mental health. For example, routine therapy doesn’t receive nearly the same level of attention as checkups at the doctor’s office. Imagine the good that could be done if mental health coverage were taken seriously. This is an especially sensitive issue for women, whose medical concerns are already taken less seriously.
The “Pink Tax” Must be Mitigated
There has been a lot in the news lately about the so-called Pink Tax. The term is used to describe the additional price that women pay for gendered products. For instance, women’s clothes can cost eight percent more than men’s, in spite of being virtually identical garments.
This additional cost, over and above what men pay in their everyday lives, covers things like hygiene products, healthcare, and even higher rates for car maintenance. While a healthcare bill probably won’t have much to say about the appropriate price for an oil change, a bill that’s good for women must help to offset the price of women-specific health-related costs.
Trans Healthcare Must be Covered
In the past, we’ve talked about the insane challenges and barriers unique to healthcare for transgender people. I won’t rehash too much of what was said in that article, but the short version is that trans individuals face exceptional difficulties when it comes to receiving the medical care that they need.
These difficulties come in two forms. First, the barriers that doctors and other medical institutions put in place — either from ignorance or animosity — and, second, the prohibitively high cost of transition and maintaining a normal life as a trans person.
A healthcare bill that’s good for women must address both of these challenges. The first can be addressed by writing protections with teeth into a bill. Much like the ACA’s Section 1557, trans people must be protected from discrimination by healthcare providers and insurers. Unlike Section 1557, however, these provisions must be enforced aggressively. Solving the second issue requires legislation that demands of insurers more compassionate coverage for trans patients.
How do we Pay for This Kind of Bill?
We’ve all pondered dream health insurance plans in the past. On top of the items mentioned above, these plans have likely included perks like unlimited spa days and fully covered massages. While those benefits might not be in the cards, it is possible for a healthcare bill to support women and be more than fiscally viable.
This becomes clear when you consider that many women today are already shouldering the Pink Tax while pulling in less in income than their male counterparts. If women can afford to do it with less, then surely men can afford to take on some portion of the costs while making more.
Regarding insurance coverage for trans people, they make up such a small percentage of the American population — 0.6 percent as of 2016 — that it’s hard to see how compassionate coverage could make so much as a dent in the earnings of major insurance companies.
Finally, by reducing the burden of healthcare on women, women's’ purchasing power will improve as they spend more money in other areas of the economy and less on necessary medical expenses.
No matter your exact views on how healthcare should work, it is now more important than ever to do your research. There are tons of resources on healthcare legislation and no excuses. Remember what happened when the Republicans built a platform around decrying the opposition’s healthcare plan; when feminists get their day in the sun, we must be ready to act with actionable ideas about how healthcare can be made better for women.