Sunday, August 30, 2009

Specifically, Women

The public option is good for society at large -- it would vastly decrease the number of uninsured in America, reduce reliance on expensive emergency-room treatment, and compete with health insurance companies that use monopoly market shares to abuse the health and finances of regular Americans. It's for everyone. HOWEVER, there are some groups that, because they're treated particularly unfairly in the present system, would receive particular benefits from a public option.

Specifically, women.

Whether or not you think one parent should stay at home and take primary responsibility for child rearing, it still happens quite a bit, and happens disproportionately to women -- and I think everybody agrees that neither men nor women should be forced into marriage, or kept from leaving one that s/he no longer wants to be a part of. There are a lot a lot a lot of reasons for this, but let's radically oversimplify them all into just one: your spouse has become abusive or presents a danger to your children. No left-right issues about saving the family, or religion, or anything else. Time to get out.

Now, we fortunately live in a society where it is possible -- not easy, or even particularly likely, but possible -- for a parent who lives and works at home to get a divorce, get child support, find a job, get an apartment, find child care and whew. Survive. It's a lot of work, and we still lack lots of critical services, but it's a big improvement over earlier times when women leaving a marriage encountered nothing but resistance and judgment. What is, however, practically impossible for that woman to get -- the most regressive part of the way our society treats stay-at-home parents -- is health insurance.

Divorced spouses and their children are eligible for COBRA -- which means that they have the right to be charged 102% (no kidding -- the insurance companies have the right to raise the cost of their plans by 2% for COBRA enrollees) of the cost of the insurance that they just lost by getting divorced. What this means is that if you don't want any gap in coverage (which is when your health problems become 'preexisting conditions,' and therefore uninsurable), you are responsible to pay the full premium for you and your children in cash the moment you ink your divorce papers. Congratulations! You have escaped a loveless and destructive marriage. Please send a $1200 check to Wellpoint Corporation....

Thirty-six months later, this insurance runs out whether you can pay for it or not. And COBRA is for the lucky ones -- people whose spouses worked at a business with 20 or more employees. If your spouse worked in the restaurant industry, you're just out of luck. And keep in mind that while it may be worth it for many women to go without health insurance for a brief period just for the benefits of avoiding Johnny, the presence and needs of children makes this problem life-or-death, damned if you do, damned if you don't.

All of this applies, less frequently but in the exact same way, for any men who get their insurance through their spouse, as well -- whether they're caregivers for children or not. If you've been at home with paralyzing nerve damage from a car accident, getting your insurance through Janie, and Janie starts disappearing for entire weekends with Tom, you're probably better off just pretending you don't know. You need Janie: you depend on her. More precisely, you depend on her insurance because our system of insurance is a joke.

But there are more indignities and injustices in our present health care system that specifically target women: the Truth-o-Meter at measures claims about the health care debate, and one of the only statements it has completely verified is that it is nearly impossible for women who are pregnant to get health insurance. This, to me, seems like blunt, no-brainer proof that our system is designed for the profit and convenience of health insurance companies, and works at the expense of people.

Add to this the fact that a public option -- because it would be purchasable by an individual, at reasonable cost -- would ease the suffering and difficulty of thousands of people in nontraditional, nonmarriage relationships, gay and otherwise, by offering the opportunity for each American to get affordable insurance, whether or not they are married, whether or not they are employed by large businesses.

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