Health care is a feminist issue

Doctor’s office waiting room, uploaded by Flickr user TheConsumerist

I’ll admit it: I find the debate over health care in America incredibly confusing at times. What I do know is pretty simple. I know that people don’t have a right to health care in this country, which is appalling. I know that navigating our current system and getting quality care is a huge headache, even for the privileged and knowledgeable. I know that low-income people, those with nontraditional work situations, immigrants, and people of color have an even tougher time finding and paying for care.

And I know that health care is a feminist issue. Because women are more likely than men to go without needed care. Because nearly twice as many women as men access health care as a dependent — in other words, they’re not covered under their own name. Because low-income women and immigrant women and women of color have a disproportionately difficult time accessing regular care. Because women are more likely to have patchwork-style careers, dropping in and out of the workforce because of family care obligations, which makes dependence on employer-provided health care exceptionally hard. Because a larger percentage of women than men have a hard time paying their medical bills.

But sometimes I have a tough time understanding the debate about what it’s gonna take to remedy this situation. When talk turns to mandates and single-payer and group plans, my eyes start glazing over. Which is why I’m grateful to Bob Herbert for breaking down this new study on the McCain/Palin proposed health care plan:

Under the McCain plan (now the McCain-Palin plan) employees who continue to receive employer-paid health benefits would look at their pay stubs each week or each month and find that additional money had been withheld to cover the taxes on the value of their benefits.

While there might be less money in the paycheck, that would not be
anything to worry about, according to Senator McCain. That’s because the government would be offering all taxpayers a refundable tax credit — $2,500 for a single worker and $5,000 per family — to be used “to help pay for your health care.”

The whole idea of the McCain plan is to get families out of employer-paid health coverage and into the health insurance marketplace, where naked competition is supposed to take care of all ills. (We’re seeing in the Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch fiascos just how well the unfettered marketplace has been working.)

Taxing employer-paid health
benefits is the first step in this transition, the equivalent of
injecting poison into the system. It’s the beginning of the end.

In other words, YIKES. Read Herbert’s whole column. Also see Lauren’s take, Ezra’s take, and this powerful article by Jonathan Cohn about women attempting to get non-employer-based insurance.

And if you want to contrast that with the Obama/Biden plan, read this op-ed.

Join the Conversation

  • Ravencomeslaughing

    This is terrifying. I would have to go without. I’m lucky enough to need a doc once or twice a year, but I can’t afford to have any more taken out of my paychecks. I already have bills to pay, student loans to repay, rent, etc. This is insane!

  • wax_ghost

    I’m already in the marketplace that McCain wants to dump everyone else into, and it sucks.

  • Lelah

    So he’s saying he’ll take money out of our paychecks, but give it back to us. Why bother creating more red tape? Just leave it alone.
    And $5k a year for families in a refundable tax credit? That is a drop in the bucket for the chronically ill.

  • Alice

    We’re seeing in the Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch fiascos just how well the unfettered marketplace has been working
    How incredibly ignorant this guy is! And we’re supposed to trust his analysis of anything? Fannie and Freddie were underwritten and subsidized by the government in an effort to extend credit to people that would otherwise not be granted it by private banks, and the fact they’d be bailed out if they failed was always implicit. The present credit problems are the result of too much government meddling, not to little.

  • AnatomyFightSong

    I went freelance this year (in part because I couldn’t find a decent job with benefits), and looking for private insurance was hell. Private insurance companies turned me down because I’ve been treated for depression. So I looked into my (“progressive”) state’s high-risk pool. Not only is my medication not covered, but they make you wait six months for any sort of treatment for depression because it’s not considered a “serious” enough condition.
    Also? They don’t cover birth control, but they treat a pregnant woman as “two people.” Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
    So I pay a lot for the crappy insurance itself, and I pay a lot for the stuff my crappy insurance doesn’t cover. But there are millions of people who are WAY worse off than me… and millions more to come if this A-hole and his Vice A-hole get elected.

  • Dino

    “Fannie and Freddie were underwritten and subsidized by the government in an effort to extend credit to people that would otherwise not be granted it by private banks, and the fact they’d be bailed out if they failed was always implicit.”
    This is not true. Fannie and Freddie were moved off budget in the 1960s, became publically traded companies and had not received federal money until now. They were not “subsidized by the government.” There was never a guaruntee that they’d be bailed out, and the fact that it’s happened is huge deal.

  • northray

    As a single dad who pays insurance for my non-custodial child how does this effect me?
    I do not have custody so I can not claim my child on my taxes. Child support enforment agreement states that I pay for insurance and get to deduct that cost from the total support owed each month. My ex-wife and I split all non covered health costs as required by state law.
    I the GOP pulls this off and gets this thing rolling through both houses then what? I can’t get the family tax credit since I don’t have custody. My ex-wife will get the family tax credit, but since she is self employed and pays directly for private insurance how does that work?

  • BluePencils

    I’m really feeling ill about this. I work for a small company with a real family feeling–they give us great health insurance and we don’t pay a dime for it. I have much, much better insurance than most people I know–$10 doctor copays, $5 generic and $10 brand-name prescription copays, I never get turned down for tests, every procedures I can think of is covered, etc. However, it costs my bosses a hell of a lot, and we’re struggling financially at the moment, as our field is in trouble (no, we’re not in banking.) First my insurance will be downgraded, and possibly I’ll soon enough end up without any at all. I’ll never be able to get insurance on my own, I’m chronically ill with a serious pre-existing medical condition. I can go on my husband’s insurance, IF he still has his. If he doesn’t, I don’t know what we’d have to do. Change jobs, I guess, until I find a self-insured big company. I’ve worked at my job for 12.5 years, and I wouldn’t want to leave it over health insurance. Which is funny, there have been times that I’ve thought about moving on but I’ve stayed because of the great health insurance and my delicate health.
    Like I said, I’m feeling ill.

  • maggie

    I work for the NYC branch of a not-for-profit health care reform organization that is doing some great community organizing work throughout the country to ensure women’s issues – especially the disparities in access to coverage facing low-income women, women of color, and young women – are being heard in the national debate on health insurance policy.
    If you’re interested in an easy to understand layout of the facts of health care policy as it pertains to women, or for an organizing guide and questions to ask your public officials, see
    …and while you’re at it, check out our blog at
    your friend,

  • cosas

    The only people who will really benefit from McCains plan to pump taxpayer money into private health are the wealthy, the private health industry and the private health insurance industry. I live in a country with a taxpayer funded universal healthcare system and while it is not perfect I never have to consult my bank manager before deciding whether or not I can afford to visit a doctor. Don’t let McCain do it to you – taxpayers should not fund private health companies, they should fund public healthcare.

  • M.Aloisius

    This is a truly weird year.
    Apparently there is quite a movement out there to shift the feminist movement over to what Palin represents. I’ve read numerous articles describing, what I thought was mainstream feminism, as “radical left-wing feminism.”
    It sounds a lot like people are trying to hijack the feminist movement, and worse, according to the polls, the are succeeding.

  • Margaret

    This is an old story from Canada that illustrates how important it is for women to have access to health care independent of their spouses. This is before universal healthcare came to Canada. It was not so long ago as I am aware that my father paid the bills for my mother’s obstetrical care. The story:
    My mother had a good friend named Bessie. Bessie was married to a man who did not treat her well. When Bessie was pregnant and developed some disturbing symptoms (pre-eclampsia?) my mother was worried about it and advised her to see a doctor but Bessie’s husband would not allow it. Bessie died from her pregnancy complications.
    My mother lost one of her best friends and blamed Bessie’s husband for her death. Like it was murder.
    Yes, Bessie could not go to the doctor without her husband’s permission in those days because he’d be paying the bill. He didn’t want to pay = she died.

  • uberhausfrau

    it’s coming on two years now, but my husband’s employer decided it would be really awesome to go to a “catastrophic coverage” health care plan. it was going to be great. we would only be paying about $12 dollars a paycheck (versus 300) and would get free well-baby and yearly check ups!! all the extra money we werent paying in premiums would go into health savings accounts!!!
    but if my kid needed to go to the ER, it wasnt covered. taking my kid to the doctor, because they were actually sick, not just cause i wanted to know what the weighed, not covered. the deductible would be 5,000 for singles, 12,000 for families. you can declare medical bankruptcy at those rates.
    well, people literally rioted. the police had to be called in at the omaha office. the guy who thought of this great idea “moved on.”
    similarly, i have to hope people would do the same if, gawdforbid, mccain got in and implemented such a shitty plan.

  • White Trash Academic

    I wonder what will happen now with the news about the AIG bailout. More examples of how the free market does not fix everything, so how can the McCain camp continue to spew this rhetoric?
    I went my whole life without insurance (didn’t have it in grad school either) and finally saw the benefits when I landed my first tenure track position. My university insurance has some issues (it does not cover any vision and barely covers dental) but I am so happy to have it.
    I do not trust private insurance companies or the free market. I would rather keep my employee insurance, thank you very much.

  • puckalish


    The present credit problems are the result of too much government meddling, not to little.

    Really? Why is it, then, that Fannie Mae was founded in the 30s and Freddie Mac in the 70s and this gluttonous predatory lending only started in the late 90s when, under Clinton and Republic Congress, DEregulation was put into play? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard… every analyst worth anything recognizes that, more than anything, the repeal of Glass-Steagall opened up the door for all of this bullshit…
    I mean, really, Alice… come back from Wonderland.
    Interesting article relevant to McCain…
    Re: insurance… well… I guess that’s a whole ‘nother thing… I’ve definitely had a hard time with it, what with being a freelancer and all… and friends of mine have had it worse… being 50k in the hole because a COBRA policy upped the rates without informing the client then, when the client payed the previous rate ($9 under the new rate… still about $350), they stopped coverage and waited the inform the client until after he had already scheduled necessary kidney surgery.
    Insurers and bankers aren’t all that different… they want to increase their bottom line… in insurance, this looks like high rates and low coverage… and that’s just bad for everyone who is not at the top of those companies. Disgusting… it’s even bad for medical providers… why do you think so many hospitals are closing? It’s not because being have stopped getting sick and injured!

  • SarahSimone

    The possibility of McCain’s health plan going through is terrifying. I already pay out of pocket for my health care, it’s a relatively low amount, in fact it’s based on my salary technically leaving me hovering just above the poverty line. And the stipend McCain is offering for singles WOULD NOT cover my insurance for a year. So I hope all those who are planning to vote McCain-Palin have an extra few grand lying around and nothing else they might need to spend it on.

  • ceejay2005

    Everyone always says that women are caring and sympathetic… that’s probably the biggest lie I’ve ever heard in my life. Women are caring and sympathetic for OTHER women, but not for men. A woman can spend hours telling her BF or male friend about some argument she got into and expect him to listen and give her advice, but if a man needs advice and goes to a woman, she couldn’t care less and would make up an excuse to get out of it.
    On the gender & women’s study category, the feminists are always complaing about how men don’t care about women’s issues, how men don’t care about women’s health, etc … and then when someone there asked a question about women and men’s health, they responded with “go to hell” … “who cares?”. They even defended a woman (who is currently in prison) who beat her son to death.
    So women, why do YOU complain about men when you yourselves couldn’t care less about any man? az cpa