On Women’s Equality Day, Sebelius, Barnes and Tchen Pushed on Reproductive Health Care Coverage

Emily Douglas

On a conference call in honor of Women's Equality Day, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Melody Barnes and Tina Tchen were repeatedly pressed on reproductive health care coverage under health care reform.

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, Deputy Director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement Tina Tchen, Domestic Policy Council chair Melody Barnes and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius held a conference call for women bloggers and activists, highlighting the significance of health care reform for women.

Invoking the memory of sufragettes who fought for the right of women to vote, Secretary Sebelius said, "Tough town halls are nothing compared to what our sisters put up with
it to make a fundamental change in this country.  And what we’re doing is bringing fundamental
change to this country."

Over half of women surveyed had delayed needed care because of costs; as Sebelius noted, health care reform would put an end to primary care co-pays – meaning women would no longer need to forgo mammograms, colon cancer checkups, cervical cancer screening and other preventive care.   "Delaying care, avoiding care is not something that
leads to a healthier population," Sebelius added.

Among the reasons Melody Barnes cited for reform was that insurance
companies can legally discriminate against women in some states. "This
kind of gender discrimination will never exist again if health reform
is
able to be passed," said Sebelius.

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Barnes reminded listeners that health care reform is important even for
people who have health insurance because of the role it will play in
controlling costs.

When the call opened for questions, nearly every questioner asked about reproductive health care coverage and options under health care reform, pressing for commitments on coverage and the expansion of options.  Asked whether a public option would include coverage for abortion care, Tchen answered, "Decisions about what types of medical procedures covered will be made by medical experts, not politicians in political debate."  She added, "There is longstanding federal policy around public funding for
abortion, stating that there should not be public funding other than through exceptions
laid out in the Hyde Amendment. Health care reform is not going to change
public policy."

The speakers emphasized that the intent for health care reform not to limit health care that Americans already have, but not to force people to pay for coverage that they don’t want, "including abortion."

"It is anticipated that in an exchange there will be choices of programs and policies for people…and as is in the market today, some policies offer full coverage of full range of reproductive rights including abortion and others don’t," said Sebelius. The "[health insurance] exchange programs would have same options."

Could this result in women, wanting a plan that includes comprehensive coverage for abortion care, paying more for insurance policies than men? "Those issues will be addresed under health reform," Sebelius responded.

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