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Mad As Hell and Not Going to Take It Anymore!

Health Care Reform Bill Must Eliminate Gender Discrimination

Tell members of your congressional delegation that throwing women under the bus in health care reform legislation is not acceptable. Contrary to what women's advocates have repeatedly been told, it now appears health care legislation allows gender rating after all. This, coupled with the anti-abortion rights language and other problems, renders the bill not worth passing unless these harmful provisions are removed.

President Obama stated in his major health policy address that reform legislation would prohibit gender rating, a practice that results in charging women up to 48 percent higher premiums. The Senate bill would allow gender discrimination for employees of companies with more than 100 employees, affecting tens of millions of women. This is unacceptable.

Tell your senators and representatives that you will seek out progressive, feminist candidates who support women's equal and affordable health care, including coverage of abortion care, to replace them -- if they support extreme restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion care and fail to eliminate gender rating in the final bill.

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Background:

Women Charged More for Being Women - One of the major selling points to women for supporting reform was that gender rating would be prohibited, but now under pressure from profit-driven insurance companies, this harmful practice will be permitted if the Senate version becomes the final bill. Discussions about resolving differences between Senate and House versions of health care reform legislation are concluding soon. General consensus indicates that provisions of the more conservative Senate bill will prevail which means that gender discrimination could be in the final version.

Gender discrimination or gender rating, where women are charged more (up to 48 percent more) than men -- often with fewer benefits -- will be allowed for companies with more than 100 employees who obtain coverage through the new Health Insurance Exchanges. The vast majority of workers are in companies with 100 or more employees.

Costly Insurance Invokes Abortion Care Restrictions - For many women this means that health insurance will be costly -- and if they can't afford these higher premiums, they will be receiving a government subsidy. We taxpayers will be picking up part of the bill for these discriminatory and costly insurance plans. Because of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment in the House bill, insurance plans would be prohibited from covering abortion care if anyone in the plan is receiving a subsidy. This is a triple-whammy for women, forced through at the 11th hour by profit-hungry insurers: women will be required to purchase insurance or face a penalty, required to purchase more expensive policies and yet not receive full health care coverage.

Senate Abortion Restrictions Equally Bad - Even if the Stupak-Pitts Amendment is removed from the final version -- as House leaders promised they would do -- the Senate provisions are equally problematic. Senate anti-abortion rights provisions stipulate that no federal funds, including affordability credits (subsidies), cost sharing reductions or other subsidies, could be used to pay for abortion coverage in private plans offered through any state or national health insurance exchange.

The Senate bill would allow each health insurance plan in the exchanges to decide whether to cover abortion services, provided they segregate private and public money and charge separate premiums each month for abortion and non-abortion services. Plan enrollees would be required to write two separate checks -- one for the main policy and a second for an abortion rider. State health insurance commissioners would have to certify that health insurance plans comply with the funding segregation requirements. Further, the Senate language would permit states to pass laws completely prohibiting the coverage of abortion care under insurance policies sold in those states through the exchanges.

Health policy experts have predicted that new requirements for segregating private funds from federal funds are so cumbersome that they will have a chilling effect on all insurance coverage of abortion care, even employer-sponsored group plans which currently cover abortion services.

Most Serious Setbacks - House- and Senate-passed restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion truly are the most serious setbacks to women's reproductive rights in decades. Congress will be voting on the final bill in the next 10 days or so, and it appears likely that these severe abortion restrictions will be retained. More than 30 million uninsured persons, including about 17 million women, will be extended coverage through new health insurance exchanges. New abortion restrictions will apply for those women who purchase coverage with the help of government subsidies. Many millions more will become eligible for a newly expanded Medicaid program which, of course, prohibits federal funds spent on abortion care. Additionally, the more than 6.5 million women who previously purchased expensive and discriminatory insurance policies in the private individual markets could be affected if they purchase coverage through the new exchanges.

Finally, employer-based group plans which are now prohibited from gender rating would be exempt from the new gender rating provision, but if these plans decide at a future date to purchase insurance through the exchanges, gender discrimination in premium pricing would be allowed. Thus, most women in the country would become subject to higher gender-priced premiums -- producing a huge profit windfall for insurance companies.

Voters Support Insurance Coverage of Abortion Care - Numerous polls show that a majority of the public does not support these extreme restrictions and, in fact, support insurance coverage of abortion care as well as public funding. But the Democratic leadership, which failed to stand up to extremist pressure, is ready to trade women's reproductive health needs in order to pass a bill. And it now appears that the leadership, along with the Obama administration, has gone back on one of their key pledges to prohibit gender discrimination in health insurance. Women should not stand for this bad treatment.

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