Could a Smart Retort on Maternity Care Help Build Support for Comprehensive Health Care Reform?

By Christine |

That’s what reform advocates are hoping, as a video from Friday’s Senate Finance Committee spread over the weekend. The short clip, embedded below, shows a great practical and philosophical divide over women’s health care.

During discussion on the health care bill proposed by Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), the committee debated one of Sen. Jon Kyl’s (R-Ariz.) amendments, which would prohibit the government from defining specific health benefits that insurers must offer.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) argued that under a new system, insurance companies should be required to cover basic maternity care. According to Kaiser Family Foundation, only 18 states mandate maternity coverage, and that number falls to 14 when applied to individual insurance markets.

Women who seek insurance on these open markets face other barriers, too; they can be disqualified for having had a previous c-section — or even for having been pregnant. Yes, pregnancy is a pre-existing condition. You can read more frustrating facts about the open insurance market — like how it’s still legal in nine states and the District of Columbia to deny a woman coverage because she’s been the victim of domestic violence — in this report by the National Women’s Law Center (covered here in October 2008).

But Kyl doesn’t plan on getting pregnant, so really, what’s the big whoop?

“Well, first of all, I don’t need maternity care,” Kyl said. “So requiring that to be in my insurance policy is something that I don’t need and will make the policy more expensive.”

Stabenow, smiling, interrupted: “I think your mom probably did.”

Kyl brushed off the remark, noting that was more than 60 years ago. Follow-up on insurers covering Viagra and prostate cancer did not ensue.

The Kyl-Stabenow exchange made the rounds in news stories and blog postings over the weekend. Almost 3,000 comments have been left on just this one Huffington Post brief. This version of the video has been viewed more than 122,000 times as of Monday morning.

Kyl should be thanked — it’s not every day a senator appears so stunningly tone-deaf on an issue that affects the entire population.

There are 4.3 million births per year in the United States, according to Childbirth Connection, which recently released a report (pdf) outlining how health care reform should address maternity care. Kyl’s staff should have held up flashcards noting that 85 percent of all women give birth, and 23 percent of hospital discharges are childbearing women or newborns. A woman’s health before and between pregnancies can have a major impact on pregnancy outcomes — and costs.

But again: Why should Kyl care?

For the record, Kyl’s amendment was defeated 14-9.

All this went down exactly one week after First Lady Michelle Obama made a personal appeal for health care, emphasizing the benefits to women and families. Speaking at an event sponsored by the White House Council on Women and Girls, Obama said “it’s still shocking” that women face discrimination when it comes to insurance premiums and coverage.

“I think it’s clear that health insurance reform and what it means for our families is very much a women’s issue,” said Obama (read her full remarks here).

Perhaps after watching Kyl, more Americans will be outraged that women can be denied coverage because of pregnancy. And maybe — just maybe — Stabenow’s six words, likely the first “your mother” joke  ever told during a debate on health care reform, will persuade voters that maternity coverage is worth it for everyone.

Update: As noted in the comments below, the NWLC is asking people to send in baby photos to show Kyl why maternity coverage is basic health care for all.

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6 Comments

  1. Emilie says:

    I heard David Brooks say last week that conservatives in the healthcare debate are tapping into good old-fashioned American populism. And I thought — what a bunch of garbage!

    As Kyl’s comments exemplify, this is about good old-fashioned American selfishness and self-absorption. While conservatives might cloak their opposition in this power-to-the-people rhetoric, it really comes down to a hypocritical unwillingness to put themselves in others’ shoes.

    Whether it’s a rejection of the lives of women, the poor or immigrants, it really about maintaining that old-fashioned privileged order.

  2. eric says:

    What I find surprising is how little coverage Kyl’s incredibly inane and insensitive remark received in the mainstream media. Kyl not so subtly was exclaiming that he had no interest in requiring health insurance that “only” affects women and their babies. The media should have been all over this story as another prime example of the real beliefs of the “family values party”.

  3. Christine C. says:

    Robin, thanks for the link! I’ll move it up to the post.

    Emilie — totally agree. With a capital “P” for privilege.

    And Eric, I did see it on some mainstream news blogs, like the NYT Prescriptions. But it would have been nice to see the exchange blasted everywhere, like “You lie!”

  4. Bill G says:

    Kyl is right. Why require this in EVERY plan? Won’t that just raise costs? Men don’t need it, working feminist women who don’t have children certainly don’t either.

    Also, let’s not give Stabenow that much credit, her aide whispered the joke to her and told her to say it.

  5. Miriam says:

    Bill, I believe in “health for all” — and that “all”, you see, includes women, men, children, old people. How dare you make a decision on what 50% of the population gets to get just because you don’t care? I am willing to pay a little more to include cancer care, for example, even if I don’t know a single person that has had cancer. I’m willing to do it because I have compassion and understanding for others, perhaps you or your family. But you apparently don’t have that capacity nor do you have any understanding of raising the level of wellbeing of everybody through collective efforts because that makes ALL of us better. How terribly sad.