Women Democratic Senators Take On Reform, Show Their Male Colleagues What it Means to Have Cojones

Jodi Jacobson

On the Senate floor and on Larry King Live, Democratic women Senators' expressed their obvious frustrations with the slow progress of health reform legislation, and vowed to ensure women's needs are addressed (2 videos).

Changes were made in this article at 6:47 pm Friday, October 10th to correct formatting mistakes and typograhpical errors introduced during formatting.

As the manipulation, posturing and bickering over health reform led primarily by conservative male congressional leaders, pundits, anti-choice organization leaders and "anti-reform town hall" groupies drones on, the Democratic women of the Senate stepped up yesterday and in the words of Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) said: Enough is enough!

The Senators’ obvious frustrations–and even anger–at the slow progress on health reform legislation, the fact that untold numbers of Americans continue to become ill or die due to lack of timely health care, and the political games being with played reproductive health services was refreshing, frank, and long overdue.

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Eight women senators spoke strongly and succinctly about the disparities in access to affordable health care in the United States, each one hitting on separate but related issues.  The Senators also appeared the same evening in a brief segment of Larry King Live.  Though King consigned them to a couple of minutes at the end of an otherwise largely vacuous show, the Senators nonetheless made clear that the practice of denying women coverage based on the "pre-existing condition" of being a woman would no longer fly.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) provided context to the statements of her colleagues by stating:

We the women of the Senate have fought for equal pay and
equal work…and now we are fighing for equal coverage.  We want equal benefits for equal premiums.

Senator Murray made clear that while they were standing up for women, they were standing up for all Americans: "The rising cost of health insurance is hurting women and our

But, she continued, it is critical to fix existing disparties in health care coverage that are affecting women. 

Why specifically women?  Every day in this country the health insurance industry denies
women access to coverage……we want to make sure that in the health care [reform effort] women get equal access to insurance.

The Senators statements shed light on the various ways in which the high costs of health care and the lack of insurance coverage disproportionately affect women….as women, as mothers, as employees, and as caregivers to aging parents and familiy members.

"Women must shoulder the worst of the health care crisis,
including outrageous discriminatory practices in care and coverage," said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).

"But it is shocking to think," said Gillibrand:

that [unless we are proactive] in today’s America over
half of the population of this country could be discriminated against in one of
their most basic life’s needs.

All other things being equal, for example, women still pay more for health insurance coverage than men.  Gillibrand cited data compiled by the National Women’s Law Center showing that:

under our current system a 25 year-old woman pays up to  45 percent more for the same or identical
coverage [than her male counterpart.]  And yet, some of  the most essential services required by women are not covered by many insurance plans…[services] such as childbearing, pap smears and mammograms.

Moreover, where women can find affordable insurance, stated Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), the "actual coverage is woefully inadequate" to their real needs.

Today, the majority of those on Medicaid and Medicare are women and providing sufficient funding for those programs is critical to the health care safety net on which millions depend.  

In addition, the toll taken by the recession has had dramatic effects on women’s access to health care.  On Larry King Live, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) cited statistics showing that 52 percent of women delay going to the doctor because of the cost of care and stated:

I get letters from women that they simply pray they don’t get sick, or that they are waiting to turn 65 to enroll in Medicare. Is this the only form of health insurance they have, prayer?

And…without reform the senior population will not get the care they need.

In their floor statements, the Senators made clear that health reform must address discrimination in insurance costs and in access to care based on sex, especially the refusal to cover basic needs such as sexual and reproductive health care, labor and delivery care, and other essential health needs.

Standard in-hospital deliveries, for example, cost between $5,000 and $10,000, and much more if  there
are complications.  But Senator Boxer pointed out the irony of the fact that in a country that ostensibly "puts family values first…only 14 states…require insurance companies to
cover maternity care."

In fact, as Senator Debbie Stabenow stated with a mix of frustration and incredulity:

Some insurance companies treat pregnancy or the intention to adopt as
a reason to reject someone for a pre-existing condition.

Pregnancy should never be a pre-existing condition," said Gillibrand, "and such
discrimination is unacceptable and is contrary to our
core values of equality and equal rights."

Both Shaheen and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MI) focused on the exclusion of women victims of domestic violence from insurance coverage because of the pre-existing condition of having been abused.  “This is unbelievable," said Shaheen, " insurance companies can deny coverage to a woman for having been a victim of domestic

Gillibrand also took on those opponents of health reform using reproductive health care and abortion as a means of attacking health reform.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand argues on the Senate floor to ensure coverage of reproductive health care in health insurance reform.

"As we address inadequacies in our health system," said Gillibrand, "we must safeguard the women’s health
clinics that are essential points of care for millions across the

Gillibrand continued:

Their work is being politicized….[but] politicizing health care delivery endangers young women
putting them at risk for teen pregnancy, STDs, or cervical or breast cancer.

Women’s health clinics provide critical services to women every day. In my own state, over
400,000 New Yorkers receive health care from Planned Parenthood each yearAbout 50 percent of them are working adults whose jobs do not offer health care benefits.

"Our strategy for reform," she continued, "must protect the critical services
that these clinics provide and
expand upon their success."

On Larry King Live, King asked Stabenow how these "women’s problems" would be addressed.  In response, Stabenow said the Senators planned to make sure that women can get affordable and equitable coverage; that pregnancy is not a
pre-existing condition and that maternity coverage is included.

We also need to provide additional help to pay for prescription drugs, strengthen Medicare and Medicaid, and take other steps to eliminate disparities.

Gillibrand agreed:

We must reform our broken system…end disparities [based on] race and
gender and make quality affordable health care affordable for every single

SEIU has further information on statements by women policymakers on health reform.

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