Democratic Women in Senate Speak on Behalf of Health Legislation

October 08, 2009

Women Democratic senators took to the floor on Thursday to describe the proposed health care legislation as crucial for American women.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters Senator Amy Klobuchar.

"We want to tell our colleagues and the American people that we want to join together as women of the Senate today and to talk about the compelling issues facing the American people in terms of the need of health care reform," said Senator Barbara Mikulski, who introduced herself as "the dean of the Democratic women in the Senate."

Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, described what happened when her newborn daughter was born, unable to swallow. "I was up all night in labor, up all day trying to figure out what was wrong with her, and they literally kicked me out of the hospital," she said. "My husband wheeled me out in a wheelchair because at that point in our country's history, they had a rule. It was called drive-by births, that when a mom gave birth she had to get kicked out of the hospital in 24 hours."

Ms. Klobuchar said she helped get a law adopted by the Minnesota legislature, guaranteeing 48-hour hospital stays for newborns and their mothers and that she was now pressing for the health care legislation as a way to help women all across the country.

"In nine states and the District of Columbia, women who are victims of domestic abuse, who have been victims of domestic abuse can be denied health care coverage because domestic abuse can be considered a pre-existing condition," she said. "That's why I'm so glad one of the major, major proposals in this reform is to do something about pre-existing conditions."

The Democrats' emphasis on women's health care needs is part of a larger strategy by the party to portray its agenda as more favorable to female Americans generally. It is a concerted pitch to a crucial bloc of voters, and often includes an emphasis on children as well. The biggest champion of the effort is none other than Nancy Pelosi, who presides over the House of Representatives as the first woman speaker in the nation's history.

Senator Kay Hagan, Democrat of North Carolina, told the story Thursday of a constituent's sister, who died in March of breast cancer, after waiting years to get a mammogram because she did not have health insurance and could not afford the cost.

"Unfortunately I hear about cases like this far too often," Ms. Hagan said. "Discriminatory practices in our health care system disproportionately affect women. And in all but 12 states, insurance companies are allowed to charge women more than they charge men for coverage. The great irony here is that mothers, the people who care for us when we're sick, are penalized under our current system."

Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan, cited statistics showing that nearly 60 percent of insurance plans sold on the individual market do not offer maternity care. "For the women in these plans, or who are attempting to get insurance, no amount of money can buy maternity care that they need."

For Ms. Stabenow, her speech on maternity care was a return to an issue that led to one of the more pointed exchanges during the Senate Finance Committee's recent debate over the health care legislation.

Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, said during the debate that he disagreed with the idea of requiring insurers to provide maternity care because it would raise costs for people who don't need or want the coverage. "I don't need maternity care," Mr. Kyl said. "And so requiring that to be in my insurance policy is something that I don't need and will make the policy more expensive."

Ms. Stabenow interjected: "I think your mom probably did." Mr. Kyl shot back, "Yeah, over 60 years ago my mom did."

Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, in her floor speech on Thursday said: "Only 14 states in American require insurance companies to cover maternity care. Imagine, in a country that puts family values first, only 14 states. That will change. And everyone is faced with huge increased costs, but women 18 to 55 are charged nearly 40 percent more than men for similar coverage in my home state."

Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, focused on the issue of health care costs - both to the government and taxpayers, and to individual women in need of coverage. "Health care reform is essential for several reasons, but one of the important reasons is to get cost under control, and begin to help balancing this federal budget, and getting us back on a surer financial footing," she said.

Ms. Landrieu added: "I wanted to take my last minute and just submit to the record a letter from Danielle Walker, a 25-year-old woman, living in Baton Rouge, went on to get a job after school, 20 percent of her paycheck is going toward insurance. This bill will help young women, middle-aged women, and older women on the issue of affordability."

And Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, said: "Today's health system is simply not meeting the needs of women. For too many women and their families today, quality, affordable health care is out of their reach." She added: "It's time to tend the insurance discrimination that women face."

Are the stakes in the health care debate higher for women than for men? Post a comment below.


By:  David M. Herszenhorn
Source: NY Times