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Joanne Bamberger Headshot

Just Being Alive Will Soon Be a Pre-Existing Condition

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Domestic violence isn't a subject I talk about much, but it's something I feel very strongly about because I have a very personal connection to the topic.

I was a victim of domestic abuse.

Many, many years ago I was married for a very short time when I was an incredibly young (19) and stupid college student (while 19 might be a good age for some to marry, it was not a good age for me).

I was smart enough, however, to get out of that very brief marriage quickly before I suffered too many injuries. But it was scary -- I had bruises from being pushed down stairs and I was anxious about lying to cover up why there was a big hole in the wall (where my ex-husband kicked it in in a rage), among other things. When he pulled a butcher knife on me when I said I was leaving, I really knew it was the right choice to save my life. But I was terrified that he would come after me and hurt me more. He tried, but I was lucky that I had friends who sheltered me and kept me safe, even when I had to go to work.

I recovered from the few physical injuries I suffered without any medical attention. But a lot of women aren't so lucky. So when I read a report this week from the SEIU that a variety of states allow insurance companies to refuse to pay for treatment of injuries suffered as a result of domestic violence because they are deemed a pre-exisiting condition, I pretty much lost it. Some states make it illegal for an insurance company to do that, but there are still eight states and the District of Columbia that permit insurance companies who cover individuals there to carve that out as something not deemed worthy of coverage.

I knew decades ago, as many women still know today, that you can get all the protective orders you want, but depending on where you live police are slow to enforce them or take them seriously. So if a woman (or, I'm assuming, even a child) who suffers a black eye or a broken arm or worse because it's not the first instance of domestic abuse, certain insurance companies won't pay for it?

If that fact alone isn't a call to action, I don't know what is. The President has said he wants health care reform and he's claimed he wants to put issues that impact women and girls in the forefront. When she spoke at Netroots Nation, Presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, who chairs the White House Council on Women & Girls, answered my Twitter question about whether the goals of the Council were still a priority, assuring us that Barack Obama would keep pushing for those goals and that the Council's work was on the front-burner.

Two of the Council's stated goals are:
  • Working hand-in-hand with the Vice President, the Justice Department's Office of Violence Against Women and other government officials [will] find new ways to prevent violence against women, at home and abroad.
  • Finally, the critical work of the Council will be to help build healthy families and improve women's health care.
Call me crazy, but I don't think either of those things can be accomplished if you've got insurance companies trying to eke out bigger profits on the backs of abused women.

So many people who are against health care reform want to keep the current system, claiming that a public option will result in rationing. But if denying a beaten woman coverage doesn't amount to rationing, what is it? Some insurers have made the calculated financial (not medical) decision that if you are a woman who can't get out of an abusive relationship, you don't deserve medical treatment if your husband beats you.

Before I experienced it, I thought there was no excuse for not getting out -- how could anyone stay? But it's a complicated issue, many times made harder by threats against other people, including children. Or you think it's only going to happen once -- it was an accident, it was something that will never happen again.

And then it does.

I am one of the most fortunate women in the world -- I got out before things got too bad. I scraped together enough money on my then-$120 a week salary to pay for a divorce and got out. I found a job in another state, but I looked over my shoulder for years, never wanting to let down my guard just in case he found out where I was.

Many years later, I met Mr. PunditMom who is the best of all possible husbands (even though I do complain sometimes that he doesn't do his share of the laundry). But I shudder to think about what might have happened if my ex-husband had been able to get to me, notwithstanding all my best efforts to prevent him from hitting me again -- or worse. And if he had, how would I have paid for my medical care if my insurance company had turned its back?

If domestic violence is a pre-existing condition, what's next? If I get a sinus infection this winter that the first round of antibiotics doesn't clear up, is the next prescription not covered? If it's OK for some insurance companies to promote and cover prescriptions or other treatments so men can "perform" when the moment is right, why isn't there a governmental push right now to make sure abused women can get medical treatment?

I wish I could believe there was some answer other than money. But I don't think there is.

Joanne Bamberger is the founder of the political blog, PunditMom. She also writes about politics through the lens of motherhood at BlogHer, where she is a Contributing Editor, MomsRising and MOMocrats. She is at work on a book about political and activist mothers (Bright Sky Press, Fall 2010).

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