By TINA IRGANG
WASHINGTON (Sept. 30, 2009)—Women are discriminated against under the current health care system, said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md, and therefore have a particularly high stake in reform.
Mikulski, using a wheelchair after surgery on a broken ankle in July, was speaking at a news conference she organized to call attention to women's health issues under the proposed reform legislation. She was joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., as well as Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center.
The speakers pointed out that, under the current system, women are often charged higher premiums than men.
"A 22-year-old woman can be charged one-and-a-half times the premium of a 22-year-old man just for being a woman," Shaheen said. "The insurance companies should be ashamed."
Several speakers drew attention to the fact that women are often denied coverage due to narrow definitions of pre-existing conditions.
"(A pre-existing condition) could mean that you had a baby with a C-section or it could mean, in some companies, that you're a victim of domestic violence," Mikulski said.
Hagan shared the story of a constituent diagnosed with breast cancer who remained in an abusive relationship with her husband because she feared that her pre-existing condition would preclude her from buying individual health insurance.
The speakers expressed outrage over remarks by Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., last week, who argued at a Senate Finance Committee meeting that insurers should not be required to pay for maternity care.
"I don't need maternity care," Kyl said. "So requiring that on my insurance policy is something that I don't need and will make the policy more expensive."
"My rebuttal to the man who said 'I don't need to pay for reproductive health care' is: you don't get pregnant by yourself," Mikulski said. "Men are a part of the reproductive process."
In a question-and-answer session after the event, Mikulski also said she would prefer a health care bill that includes a public option, but expressed openness toward other proposals.
"If there is a good idea that will get the necessary votes on a bipartisan basis I will consider it on the basis of merit for coverage as well as cost," Mikulski said.
The public option would add a government-funded alternative to the private insurance market. The proposal has been criticized by many Republicans and some moderate Democrats, and may be dropped from the final reform bill.
Mikulski rejected the idea of health insurance co-ops, which has been suggested by some moderate Democrats. This model would allow individual consumers to form groups and buy health insurance collectively at reduced rates.
"I think co-ops have served the nation well when you sell commodities, so I could understand why there are senators from agricultural states who like co-ops," Mikulski said. "But health care is not like selling soy beans."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.