What the Health? "Women's Issues"

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<i>What the Health?</i> "Women's Issues"

“Women’s issues,” is a term dreaded by any woman who knows what it’s designed to do: render our problems insignificant. By labeling anything having to do with the fair and equal treatment of women as “women’s issues,” they no longer sound like everyone’s issues to the undiscerning ear. Just think about it. Have you ever heard someone say “men’s issues?” No, you haven’t, because things that are issues for men are just seen as human issues, because men have markedly more “value” on a societal scale. Even something as simple as the pink tax (the same products that men use colored pink in order to market them to women but charge more) is seen as a “women’s issue.” Despite publicizing the problem, it persists. What has become the ultimate women’s issue though is reproductive healthcare, and under the Trump administration it is more threatened than ever.

Before the Affordable Care Act became a law, being a woman was seen as a preexisting condition, not unlike HIV or diabetes. Essentially, insurance companies were allowed to look at womanhood as a disease, and charge for it the same way. The rationale was that women used the healthcare system more, and therefore should be charged more, but these companies did little to no research to prove that—they simply just weren’t being prevented from discriminating based on gender, a practice the ACA ended in 2010. With men’s high health risks for things like heart disease and prostate cancer, it’s actually highly unlikely that women cost an insurance company more than men, except perhaps when they are pregnant or give birth. But that was of no consequence either, because most pre-ACA policies excluded maternity coverage. So insurance companies were charging women more for no quantifiable reason. In fact, insurance companies often charged non-smoking women more or the same as men who smoked—a huge health risk—costing women up to 48% more in premiums annually, according to a 2008 study by the National Women’s Law Center.

Yes, women do need reproductive health screenings and men don’t, but those can be taken care of in an annual check up, the same one that men should get every year to keep things like their prostate in check. Not to mention the fact that OBGYNs are viewed by insurance companies as specialists, rather than general care providers (even though the care they provide women is 100% necessary), so the increase in co-pay for their services should mitigate the insurance company’s cost regardless. Ultimately the real question in logic is: wouldn’t keeping women healthy and allowing for them to have affordable coverage that provides easy access to screenings mean that women don’t end up costing as much? Than say if they can’t afford uncovered screenings, or insurance at all, and end up developing cervical cancer or have a pregnancy complication. It is in those situations that women become the burden that conservative law makers and insurance companies claim them to be—when they would have to default on debt and turn to welfare, because an insurance company refused them preventative or maternity care.

What it really comes down to is abortion. Conservatives have so intrinsically linked abortion and female reproductive care with their rhetoric that these health insurance companies—who have well-documented relationships with conservative lawmakers—knew they were safe in discriminating. All they had to do if anyone cried foul was pander to the religious right about how they were trying to prevent premium dollars from paying for abortion, and they could sanctimoniously close the case—despite the fact that 26 states already prevent insurance from covering abortion and the Hyde Amendment passed originally in 1976 prevents it as well.

So let’s enter an alternate reality where Republicans have their way on multiple healthcare issues: they repeal the ACA and abolish Roe V. Wade—something both Trump and Pence have adamantly asserted as goals, with Trump saying Planned Parenthood should be defunded because “of the abortion factor,” making abortion decisions left to the states; and Pence wanting Roe V. Wade cosigned “into the ash heap of history.” Pence also has put legislative support behind banning abortion even in terms of rape, incest or fetal abnormalities, prosecuting women for abortion and requiring fetal tissues be buried at the cost of the mother. So under this hypothetical, we now live in a world where abortion is illegal and punishable, miscarriages must be costly buried by women, birth control is no longer free under the ACA, women have no access to free screenings from Planned Parenthood, and insurance companies are allowed to charge women more for or completely refuse to cover preventative reproductive care and maternity.

What exactly would that do? That would leave women sick, poor and pregnant. It would leave many women having to rely on their state’s welfare programs for childcare, medical care, unemployment, disability and food assistance. It would leave the next generation of children woefully under funded, educated and parented, and often times sick. All of that sure sounds like people issues to me. So please keep trying to tell us they’re just “women’s issues.”

Image: Larissa Puro, CC-BY

Chloe Stillwell is a Nashville-based columnist focusing on politics, culture and feminism.