With Friends Like These, Who Needs Enemies: Senate Health Deal Readmits Gender Bias by Insurers

Dear Readers,

This one is a trip: Keep reading, even though it may be late (or early). I’ve bolded the particularly ridiculous, in my opinion, findings reported in this article.

As we prepare for tomorrow’s recognition of the Supreme Court’s action in Roe v. Wade, as we used to say in the ’70’s, “put this one in your pipe and smoke it.” Unbelievable.

Best wishes.

Senate Health Deal Readmits Gender Bias by Insurers

By Susan Elan
WeNews correspondent
Thursday, January 21, 2010

Women’s rights leaders already embittered by lawmakers’ compromises on abortion coverage in health reform say Senate negotiators have further hurt women by allowing gender bias–or the practice of charging women more than men–to continue in their version.

NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–With the nation’s interest in health care reform growing in intensity, even influencing election outcomes, the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., warned on Jan. 15 that the Senate health care reform bill would not end gender rating, the practice by which insurers charge women higher premiums than men for the same coverage. In contrast, the House version would ban the practice.

Larger employers with predominantly female work forces–such as child care providers, visiting nurse associations and even some smaller school districts–would continue to be charged higher premiums “simply because of the demographics of their work force,” Judy Waxman, vice president for Health and Reproductive Rights at the National Women’s Law Center, said in a Jan. 15 message to their members.

The Senate bill eliminates gender rating for companies with fewer than 100 employees. Spurred by this further disappointment with the Senate’s Reid-Nelson health reform bill–which joins the House version in restricting abortion coverage–the new president of the National Organization for Women is threatening to join those opposing passage of health care legislation in its current form.

It’s beyond outrageous that our friends in the leadership in the House and Senate and the White House did not call me to tell me this,” said Terry O’Neill, who was elected in June to succeed the term-limited Kim Gandy as president of NOW. “As it is, if the Reid-Nelson compromise passes, after a period of years, women in this country will have no private or public coverage for abortion care. And then they’re going to sneak in the continuation of gender rating and they expect us to sit back and not call for the bill to be completely killed? They’ve got another thing coming.”

O’Neill said the nonpartisan group NOW would support pro-choice candidates regardless of party affiliation, from independent candidates to GOP members willing to go “back to the way it was before it was taken over by extremists.”

Coakley Race Crucial

The disaffection of pro-choice advocates from Democrats and the political compromises they have accepted on health reform coincides with the Tuesday loss of pro-choice Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in the special senate race for the seat vacated by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy. Coakley’s victory was considered crucial for retaining the solid 60 votes necessary for health reform passage.

Scott Brown, the victor in the Massachusetts race, campaigned on his opposition to the health care bill. The Republican Majority for Choice did not endorse Brown because the group wasn’t able to scrutinize his full voting record on reproductive issues.

Kellie Ferguson, executive director of the Washington-based group, said Brown has expressed support for Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling preserving abortion as part of a woman’s right to privacy. Ferguson added that Brown, as a state senator, also voted for emergency contraception for rape victims. However, he voted for parental consent for abortions too and possibly other restrictions. Because of his record, Ferguson said she believes Brown “will be someone they can work with.”

The industry-friendly concession on preserving insurers’ right to gender bias is part of the Senate’s Reid-Nelson compromise, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.

That duo has left Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, calling for changes to the Senate filibuster rule that she said makes it possible for one senator–such as Nebraska’s Nelson or now Massachusetts’ Brown–to block legislation and appointments.

“How can we be in this position where we are constantly fighting to prevent further restrictions?” Smeal said.

Insurance companies claim that higher overall average costs for women’s health care justify the practice but women’s advocates call it discriminatory.

Women pay up to 48 percent more for health insurance than men, Smeal said.

Bills Restrict Abortion Access

The House and Senate health care reform bills, now undergoing reconciliation in Washington, both restrict access to abortion.

The House’s Stupak-Pitts amendment bans all coverage of abortion in insurance plans to be offered in a newly created insurance exchange.

The Senate’s Reid-Nelson compromise forbids any federal subsidy or funding to pay for abortion coverage.

Under the Senate version, women in theory could buy coverage as long as they pay for it separately with their own money. But individual states could “opt-out” and pass legislation prohibiting their insurance exchange from having plans that cover abortion at all.

Groups ranging from the YWCA to the American Medical Student Association warn that both bills create a clear incentive for health insurance plans to stop covering abortion. Currently, up to 85 percent of health insurance plans do cover these procedures.

Amid the turmoil over health care reform, Ellen Malcolm, president of the pro-choice EMILY’s List, announced earlier this month that she is stepping down.

Stephanie Schriock, 36, a key political architect of the election of Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, will replace Malcolm, 62, on Feb. 1.

Malcolm, who founded EMILY’s List in 1985 to elect pro-choice Democratic women to office, and Schriock, who also headed the campaign of Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, could not be reached for comment on how the health care reform debate would affect the strategy of one of the largest political action committees in the nation.

Matt Burgess, an Emily’s List spokesperson, told Women’s eNews that Malcolm will continue serving the organization as chairwoman of the board.

Malcolm, who has served for 25 years, announced the search for a new president in July 2009 on the EMILY’s List Web site.

Three Male Lawmakers to Blame

In a Dec. 20, 2009, e-mail–forwarded to Women’s eNews by Burgess–Malcolm blamed “the fiasco around abortion coverage in health care reform” on the general male-domination of Congress and three male lawmakers in particular: Stupak, Nelson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, who heads the smallest minority party since 1979 but nevertheless has managed to keep his 40-member caucus unified in its opposition to health care reform.

“Our elected women are the ones who fought long and hard to defeat the Stupak-Nelson forces in Congress,” Malcolm wrote.

Seventeen percent of lawmakers in Congress are women, according to the Center for American Women and Politics Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers.

During interviews with Women’s eNews, pro-choice leaders leveled no criticism at Democratic female lawmakers, although Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the first woman speaker of the House, admitted in published reports that she had given in to abortion opponents in her party to save the health care reform bill.

NOW’s O’Neill expressed doubt about the ability of the two-party system to protect women.

The Republicans are implacably opposed to women achieving our rights and the other party knows we have no place to go,” she said.

The Feminist Majority’s Smeal said she wants closer scrutiny of the Catholic bishops for ignoring restrictions on political activism by a tax-exempt religious institution.

Catholic Bishops Exert Pressure

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it would fight any health care reform bill that did not contain restrictions on abortion. The bishops told priests across the country to talk about the legislation at all masses, to include the anti-choice information in more than 19,000 parish bulletins and to mobilize parishioners to contact Congress.

The bishops also repeatedly visited the offices of members of Congress, Smeal said. She urged Congress members “to get the same backbone” the Washington, D.C., City Council showed when it refused to bow to pressure from the bishops over the legalization of gay marriage.

“We are supposed to have a separation of church and state,” Smeal said. “Religion should not dictate. There are the mullahs in Iran and the bishops here.”

“The Catholic community led by their bishops must make their voice heard in the public square,” Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Women’s eNews in response to Smeal’s criticism. “Anything short of that would be to abdicate their responsibility as citizens and Catholics. The bishops defend the weak and defenseless. Someone has to. All U.S. citizens ought to. Health care reform is about saving lives, not taking them.”

Walsh did not respond to questions about the possible violation of the bishop conference’s tax-exempt status.

For more information:

EMILY’s List
Feminist Majority Foundation
NARAL Pro-Choice America
National Organization for Womenhttp://www.now.org

Coakley, Schmoakley: You’re Not Our Heroes Anymore

Dear Readers,

Here’s my take on tomorrow’s big U.S. Senate election, taken from the Huffington Post national Politics and Chicago pages. Go here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rebecca-sive.




Here is the full text of my post, inspired by one of my favorite musicians, B.B. King, and doubly-inspired by thinking about Dr. King: Check-it-out.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley may or may not be elected to the U.S. Senate tomorrow. I ask you: What difference will it make–one way or the other?

Badly, the Democratic guns-for-hire, Coakley’s would-be colleagues, and the President want Martha Coakley elected because they, badly, want their sixtieth vote for a healthcare bill that presently renders American women unequal, second-class to the men around them.

Coakley can’t wait to vote for it: In thrall to Ted Kennedy’s legacy and desirous of keeping the “Kennedy seat,” talk about entitlement, she campaigns with Vicki Kennedy to make her case.

So, let’s say Martha Coakley pulls it out of the bag. Then what?

Well, at the same time Friday that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee was pleading with me to send money to help get Martha Coakley elected, I received a call from U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar’s (D-MN) fundraiser.

Now, Amy is a longtime and dear personal friend: A law school classmate of my husband’s, we have sent money to Amy since her first run for office back in the 90’s. So, when Amy decided to run for the U.S. Senate, I took it upon myself to introduce her to then Senator Obama’s donor-world: the world of big-money, progressive Chicago Democrats. The dividends (for her) have paid-off ever since.

But what about the dividends for me, for the rest of the women of Chicago, for the women of Minnesota, or for the rest of America?

Talk about the bag. Looks to me like we’ve all been left, holding the bag.

The reason for the formation of Emily’s List, say, and of other women’s organizations that raise money and work to elect pro-choice, Democratic women candidates, was crystal-clear: It was to increase the representation of Democratic women in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, so that these women would do what the Democratic men had failed to do: make the American world an equal one.

We were highly motivated; we worked really hard; we had a great interest in helping the interested women among us achieve this opportunity to serve—in order to serve our interests.

Instead, we find them serving their own.

As I’ve previously written in these pages, in lockstep with their male colleagues, the 13 Democratic women U.S. Senators voted for a healthcare “reform” bill that, tragically, takes millions of American women back to pre-Roe v. Wade days, i.e., to daily life in which they will, odds-are, be unable to obtain an abortion, in their very own state.

As to the Democratic women Members of the House of Representatives, well, yes, a group is fighting hard against the Stupak Amendment (talk about pre-Roe!), but their leader, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, birthed Stupak in the first place. Talk about failing to serve the interests of women.

You’re not my heroes anymore.

Your elections excited me. Your elections motivated me to (keep) helping you, because I believed that your election meant I would have representatives of me, fighting for me.

Well, as B.B. King would say: “The thrill is gone.”

Don’t come to me saying you represent me; don’t come to me saying that I owe you my financial support; don’t come to me saying that you are the defender of my rights; don’t come to me saying you matter to women, or, worse yet, for women.

For, right now, you don’t.

So, until further notice, my phone is on voicemail; my checkbook is closed; my e-mail contact list doesn’t include you; my living room chairs are empty of women donors; and my speeches for you won’t get written.

B. B. continues: “The thrill is gone away for good.”

Is it?

That’s up to you.

On this day of all days, on the day when we honor the work of a man assassinated for standing- up and acting on his belief in equal rights, the least you can do is:

· Stop making deals, stand-up to the enemy, and fight like Dr. King did.

· Stop thinking that being just a little bit better than the guys next-door is enough help for those who depend on you. Dr. King didn’t make this mistake, and neither should you.

· Stop thinking that being in proximity to power is sufficient (to our needs). The only thing that actually matters, on days like these, is having the power, and using it to do good.

· Stop thinking that fighting to “maintain the status quo” is a win, ‘cause, gee whiz, I tried really hard. It isn’t, not when women’s very lives are at-stake.

· Stop thinking “half a loaf is better than none.” Sometimes, some days, these days, this day,it’s not. We know that, and so should you.

On this day, of all days:

· Know that your male colleagues don’t understand what we need, in the way that you do. We need you to do what needs doing.

· Know that your sworn enemies won’t, ever, honor their word. The last few months of “healthcare reform” are ample proof of that, if any were ever needed. We need you to outflank our enemy, however you can manage to do that.

· Know that equal rights can’t be achieved by conducting business “as usual.” We need you to conduct the business that needs conducting, no matter the price you may personally pay for breaking away from the (male) norm.

· Know that you owe us a debt, and it’s time to pay it. We need you do what Dr. King did: Fight until you can’t fight anymore.

I close as B.B. closed: “I’m free, free now; I’m free from your spell, and now that it’s over, all I can do is wish you well.”