Want Health Care Gains? Let’s Get a Better Partner in DC

Lois Uttley

The reality for women is that our nation's health care "system" is failing us. We need to be listening carefully to what the two parties have to say about health care reform at their national conventions.

You can tell the truth with
a story, as Hillary Clinton did Tuesday night at the Democratic National
Convention, recalling the uninsured single mom who had adopted two kids
with autism, then discovered she had cancer: "She greeted me with
her bald head painted with my name on it and asked me to fight for health
care for her and her children."

Or, you can tell it with numbers,
using the new report on uninsured Americans released Tuesday by the
U.S. Census Bureau: the percentage of women in this country with employer-sponsored
health insurance fell in 2007 for the eighth consecutive year,
to just 58.7 percent.

However you approach it, the
harsh reality for women and our families is that our nation’s health
care "system" is failing us. We women need to be listening carefully
to what the two parties have to say about health care reform at their
national conventions, because the well-being of our families for the
next four years is at stake.

As we think about what we want
our next President and Congress to do about health reform, let’s use
the new Census data to take a look in the rear-view mirror at the health
policy failures we have experienced over the last eight years:

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  • As more and more
    women lost employer-sponsored health insurance, the numbers of uninsured
    women rose from 18 million in 1999 (12.9 percent) to more than 21 million
    in both 2006 and 2007 (roughly 14 percent).

  • How did women cope?
    More and more of them turned to public health insurance. Last year,
    the proportion of women relying on all types of public insurance (Medicaid,
    Medicare and military insurance) was up to an eight-year high of 29.8

  • Women of color faced
    disproportionately high rates of uninsurance. Hispanic women, for example,
    had an uninsurance rate of 28.9 percent, while 17.9 percent of Black
    women and 15.7 percent of Asian-American women had no health insurance.
    By comparison, the uninsured rate for
    white non-Hispanic women is 9.6 percent.

  • Where you live was
    a major predictor of whether you have health insurance. In the South,
    19 percent of people were uninsured, compared to 17.9 percent in the
    West, 11.4 percent in the Midwest and 12.3 in the Northeast.

But those numbers don’t capture
the desperation of women sitting at their kitchen tables across America
trying to figure out how to pay for health care for their families,
when premiums, deductibles and co-pays are growing more expensive, coverage
is getting worse and family budgets are stretched by high gas and food
prices. Ask individual women about the state of health care in the United
States — as we have been doing at Raising Women’s Voices for the
Health Care We Need
— and you’ll get an earful:

  • "Our health insurance
    coverage has gotten dramatically worse."
  • "I went to refill
    my birth control and the co-pay was $50!"
  • "The doctor told
    me that my insurance would not even provide suitable coverage for his

One mother of two who lost
her insurance coverage after her divorce told us she hasn’t gone to
a doctor or had regular check-ups for over two years. "It’s rough,
I’m paying for disability and life insurance, car insurance, malpractice
insurance and home owner’s insurance," she said. "To add another $400 to $700
a month to the mix would mean I wouldn’t be able to put food on the

Another woman told us she became
ill while she was a full-time graduate student and temporarily uninsured:
"I was in the hospital for five or six days and got a $30,000 bill."
Her story of medical debt is becoming, unfortunately, an all-too-common

Are there any successes we
can point to from our collective experience with the American health
system over the last eight years? Fortunately, yes.

While the Massachusetts health
reform experiment has plenty of critics, and even its proponents acknowledge
it is a work in progress, the new Census Bureau numbers show it has
made a real difference. Massachusetts had the highest rate of insured
residents in the nation – 92.1 percent in a combined average for 2006
and 2007 – well above the national average of 86 percent and far out
in front of the barely 75 percent in President Bush’s home state of

"While we’ve had some
bumps in the road with health care reform, it’s well worth the effort
and the resources we’re putting into it," Massachusetts Health
Secretary Dr. JudyAnn Bigby told the Boston Globe.
Her boss, Gov. Deval Patrick, took the stage in Denver Wednesday at
a forum sponsored by the consumer health group Families USA to talk
about the state’s reform plan.

We see another success in state
efforts to expand the number of children receiving health coverage
under the State Children’s Health Insurance (SCHIP) program. Several states managed to do so over the last few years, and those actions produced
a bright spot in the Census numbers released Tuesday: the number of
children under 18 without health insurance fell from 11.7 million in
2006 to 11 million last year.

But that gain has come over
the vehement objections of the Bush administration, which has tried
to rein in spending on SCHIP. "Can you imagine an administration that
decided to draw the line on health coverage for our children?" an
indignant Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland told the Families USA forum Wednesday.
He called for "a partner in Washington we can work with."

Who should that be? As the
convention spotlight continues in Denver this week, and then focuses on
the Republican party in Minneapolis in September, American women will
be listening, and looking for a better idea than we have seen in Washington
for the last eight years.

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