Today, some of the women of the U.S. Senate took to the chamber floor and made their case for health reform. Maryland Democrat Barbara Mikulski reiterated what many women around the country have been saying and what many, many more women know: that health reform is an equal rights issue in addition to being a human rights issue and a consumer rights issue. Women across the nation pay more in health insurance than men of the same age and in the same health, she said, and women at 40 pay 35 percent more.
In Colorado, it’s worse yet.
As the Colorado Independent’s Katie Redding has been reporting, healthy women in this state pay much more than men who are unhealthy pay, including smokers. As much as 50 percent more. As Redding put it on Colorado’s Progressive Talk radio this Monday, “Women are being penalized for doing what they’re supposed to do– for going for regular checkups” — that is, for practicing the kind of preventative care everyone knows saves money, as well as lives.
“We have the opportunity here to change the law and to change health care,” said Mikulski.
California’s Barbara Boxer argued that health reform is about saving money, not spending it. She is making a point that time and again gets lost in a debate where splashy headlines emphasize the cost of the legislation over a decade or more– headlines like the blaring one above the fold at the Denver Post that announced the arrival of the Senate bill. The cost, hundreds of billions, seems huge floating in space unencumbered by context. Where is the corresponding tally running next to that figure of the amount we will all spend on health insurance and health care should reform fail and the industry continue along as it has been doing? In other words, how does the cost of the bill compare with the cost of doing nothing?
In her speech Boxer alludes to the fact that we’re all spending money now– at an enormous and increasing rate in a system that analysts on all sides of the political spectrum, including those paid by the health care industry, agree now fails utterly to contain costs.
“We can sit here and do nothing. We can scare people. That’s the easy thing to do.”
The Senate bill, Boxer said, will save Medicare. Republicans fought Medicare. Bob Dole bragged that he fought against it. Newt Gingrich said Let it wither on the vine.
“Well, if you ask our seniors, I think they’re the group most pleased with their coverage. It’s not perfect. But it’s critical. And we save it here. We extend the life of Medicare.”
And North Carolina’s Sen. Kay Hagan tells the harrowing story of a constituent who died of breast cancer after waiting to get a lump checked, paying in cash at last for a checkup and then being diagnosed with cancer. The woman had no coverage and no access to insurance, especially once she was diagnosed.
Anyone who has ever gone through stretches of noncoverage knows the horror of suspecting you might be sick while also dreadfully aware of the fact that no insurance company will cover you and no doctor will work on you outside an emergency room, which is no place to find a cure for a disease like cancer.
Hagan’s constituent’s story played out as a round-the-clock nightmare. She died of the cancer that was caught too late and that was insufficiently treated. Her sister emailed the story to Hagan.