Women's Health Not 'Special Interest'

Just before the Senate Finance Committee wrapped up debate
over its Sen. Max Baucus-designed health care bill, its members
debated one of Sen. Jon Kyl's amendments, which would have cut
language defining which benefits employers are required to

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., argued that insurers must be
required to cover basic maternity care. (In several states there
are no such requirements.)

"I don't need maternity care," said Kyl, R-Ariz. "So
requiring that on my insurance policy is something that I don't
need and will make the policy more expensive."

Stabenow interrupted: "I think your mom probably

The amendment was defeated, 9 to 14.

That anecdote explains a lot about what's been wrong with the
health care debate in Washington these past several months,
UW-Madison law Professor Alta Charo told the annual fall luncheon
of Planned Parenthood last week in a stirring speech in Madison.
Too many people working on health care reform don't understand
insurance - that it should be designed to spread the risk among us
all, not to exclude certain classes of people so that policies cost
less. Kyl obviously doesn't understand it.

"If you don't want to cover women's maternity care, then don't
ask us to cover your prostate cancer treatments or, better yet,
don't ask us to cover the costs of your Viagra prescription," the
internationally recognized bioethicist said.

Charo, who was on President Barack Obama's transition team and
was recently named a senior adviser to the commissioner of the U.S.
Food and Drug Administration, is alarmed at how women are treated
as "special interests" in the health care debate when not only do
they outnumber men in the health care system, but by age 85 women
outnumber men 2-1. Health care ought to be built around women, she
argued, not treat them as a special interest.

Many of them, after all, served as caregivers for their husbands
and fathers while they were alive. When they're in need of care,
the system needs to take care of them too.

It was a good point that drew applause from the 175 people,
mostly women, at the event.

The reason they are considered a special interest is because
health care becomes a debate on moralism and politics rather than
on science - something well known to Planned Parenthood, which
strives to get young people informed about their sexual health. The
ideologues use misinformation to get their way.

Charo added that it's why reproductive health in the U.S. is
rotten, why we have 65 million people with incurable sexually
transmitted diseases, why we have high infant mortality rates, why
we have so many unintended pregnancies.

"We've got to stop treating health care as a Sunday school
scolding," Charo said.

For example, we keep pumping millions of taxpayer dollars into
abstinence-only sex education when study after study has shown that
it doesn't work. We lead kids to believe that they never have to
have sex and then when they do, they know nothing about birth
control. And, of course, the burden typically falls on women and
the poor.

She warned the crowd that the right to life lobby may well gets
its way on abortion in the health care debate. Several amendments
have already been proposed that would ban any health insurer from
covering an abortion if the firm gets any federal subsidy. That
would cover all insurance companies because their low-income
policyholders will be subsidized with federal funds.

In order to get health reform in the end, she worries, Congress
may give in to the abortion ban unless women and others speak
clearly and loudly to their senators and representatives.

Guess what is also in the Senate Finance Committee's health
reform bill: $50 million more for abstinence-only sex

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