Women and Health and the Glass Ceiling

We all know gender inequality issues still exist in the workplace. Men still get paid more than women. Fewer women are promoted than men.

Another place where gender discrimination is allowed to tacitly continue is in health care. As recently as 2002, women were charged copays of between $500 and $2,000 to deliver babies. Meanwhile (mostly or only men) who had prostate surgery, back surgery, brain surgery, coronary bypass surgery did not have to pay copays.

(Some might argue that maternity costs more. Not so. Average costs for labor and delivery was $1,980 then. Meanwhile, average costs for surgeries for those other procedures ranged from $4,422 to $29,539 — okay, now i’m really annoyed).

Why am I upset about this now?

Here’s the situation: Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Republican cohorts are constantly calling for “flexibility” that would allow insurance companies to offer consumers more “choice” and more “affordable” options.

What they really mean is getting rid of a host of “benefits” that California wrote into the law years ago to make sure health coverage actually covered health care.

Here are some of the benefits they’re talking about. (see a full ist of mandates here) California mandates 23 benefits; six directly relate to women. They include coverage for:

  • complications of pregnancy, (for plans that provide maternity benefits);
  • breast cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment;
  • mammograms;
  • cervical cancer screening (if policy includes coverage for treatment/surgery of cervical cancer)
  • prenatal in the Expanded Alpha Feto Protein program, if maternity benefits are included
  • prescription contraceptive methods (if prescription drugs are part of the benefit package)

Two other mandated benefits are “tweeners,” while they could apply to both genders, I would say they predominantly apply to women:

  • diagnosis, treatment and appropriate management of osteoporosis
  • immediate accident and sickness coverage for each newborn infant and adoptive child.

Of course, the biggest cost for women — maternity coverage — is not a mandated benefit and was actually vetoed by Schwarzenegger in 2004 on the grounds that it would make coverage too expensive for everyone. As I pointed out earlier in this post, the collective “we” pays for a lot of health care that is used primarily by men, including the gov’s various heart surgeries.

So don’t buy the wrap about “choice,” “flexibility” and “affordability.” It’s just another way to help keep women in their place.

Click here for the San Francisco Chronicle’s excellent Sunday Op-Ed about women and health care.

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.
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