Today the White House announced that it has set March 18 as the deadline for Congress to pass a final health care reform bill. President Obama has embraced the Senate’s version of health care legislation. This bill is no panacea for the nation’s broken health care system. It has major flaws that probably cannot be fixed within two weeks. However, the National Organization for Women is not about to give up — not with women’s basic human rights at stake.
We cannot hope to achieve social justice without universal access to health care. At a minimum, health care reform should contain a strong public option, which would provide an incentive for the profit-driven health insurance industry to control skyrocketing premium rates. At a minimum, health care reform should allow states to adopt their own single-payer plans. The president’s approach does not meet either of these minimum requirements.
What President Obama calls “moving forward” on health care reform is in fact a giant leap backward for women. The Senate’s version of health care legislation, which the House is now poised to pass, contains sweeping anti-abortion language and fails to eliminate gender and age rating. Lawfully-residing non-citizen immigrants will have to wait five years to qualify for purchasing health insurance through new health exchanges, while undocumented immigrants will not have any access to health insurance under either the Senate or House bills.
Rep. Bart Stupak and his radical anti-abortion rights coalition are threatening to vote against the Senate bill because its restrictions on abortion coverage are not as extreme as those contained in the House’s Stupak-Pitts amendment. Even if Stupak does not succeed, the Senate bill is already bad enough. It places burdensome requirements that would likely result in no coverage for abortion care for either the millions of women purchasing insurance in the new insurance exchanges or the millions of women now covered by large, employer-based group plans, the majority of which currently provide abortion coverage.
Additionally, we have repeatedly been told that gender rating would be eliminated, yet the Senate bill contains language that allows that practice for insurance plans provided to companies with more than 100 employees. It also permits insurance companies to charge older policy holders up to three times the premiums they charge younger customers — a provision that will disproportionately harm middle-aged women. As it stands, this bill is discriminatory against women, and these injustices will not be corrected in the reconciliation process without the ardent advocacy of groups like NOW.
The National Organization for Women refuses to compromise on our most basic principles. We will not accept a health care bill that trades off the rights and needs of some women for the benefit of others. And we will never stop fighting for the right of every woman to have equal access to the full range of reproductive health care, including abortion.