03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Women Have The Most To Lose if Health Reform Fails

Imagine that you recently had a baby through a cesarean section and had planned on taking off a few years to stay at home to care for your new baby. Now with the economic recession forcing many women back into the workforce, you find that you too need to re-enter the workforce to help your family make ends meet. The problem? Good luck finding health insurance. Insurers in most states are permitted to consider gender when determining both individual and group rates and therefore women are frequently charged much more than men for premiums. Moreover, a C-section can be viewed as a "pre-existing condition" and insurers can now refuse to pay for future C-sections or deny a woman who has had a prior C-section from health coverage entirely. Equally abhorrent, in eight states and in the District of Columbia, insurers can legally deny a woman's health insurance application if she has been the victim of domestic violence.

In actuality, the impact on women from our current health care system is even worse than just the odious discriminatory practices mentioned above. Skyrocketing health care costs and a lack of access to affordable health care have had a greater impact on women than men according to a Commonwealth Fund study that examines how our current health care system affects women in this country. The statistics cited in the study are staggering: seven in ten women have no insurance or are underinsured, face medical debt or are facing a cost-related issue affecting their access to health care. More than half of all women in the Unites States have had to refuse necessary care due to cost. Many women are simply not able to find coverage for maternity care at all.

One of the main problems facing women in obtaining health care is that women still earn 78 cents for every dollar that men earn. Yet women use more health care than men, in large part because of women's reproductive care needs. Exacerbating the situation are the higher premiums many insurers charge women and thus the impact is that women have more trouble than men obtaining the critical health care that they need and therefore more women than men end up being underinsured.

When women make the majority of health care decisions for families (which they do) and when women are more likely than men to visit the doctor more frequently and be proactive about their health (which they are), we as a society are making a grave mistake in not putting quality, affordable health care for women at the top of the agenda in the health care debate.

Women are a majority of the country's population (52 percent) and constitute more of the overall vote nationwide than men (in every Presidential election since 1980 more women than men proportionately have voted-8million more in the 2000 election and 9 million more in the 2004 election.) Yet where are the advertising campaigns in the health care debate targeted to women or the grass roots mobilization of women's groups? I have never seen such a blizzard of ads in a non-Presidential election year as we have seen in this current health care debate, yet I have yet to see an ad geared to women. Women have the most to gain by a passage of a health care bill (a prohibition against insurance companies charging more for premiums for women than for men as many currently do, a reversal of the policy allowing insurers to deny coverage based on a prior C section or domestic violence incident, universal coverage of maternity care, premium subsidies which will make health care more affordable for women and families.) Women also have the most to lose if heath care reform fails yet you wouldn't know it from the paucity of dialogue on this issue.

The messaging from the Obama Administration on what women stand to gain and lose in the health care debate has been terrible. We are the only industrialized nation in the West that does not provide universal health care, and yet, the dialogue out of Washington has focused on everything but the impact to women. The President should stand up and say how can we as a society tolerate a system that so blatantly discriminates against a group that comprises over half of our country and that clearly is not putting women's health on equal footing. If the Administration fails to pass a strong plan for universal health care, our nation's chance at ever doing so will be severely comprised for years to come. We are overlooking one of our best assets to get the message out--women--who will raise their voices loudly as they have for generations to protest the perpetuation of a system that does not properly treat women equally and that blatantly does not put proper value on maternity and a women's overall health.