Right now the health care debate has shifted--perhaps temporarily--from the public option to abortion and mammograms. This makes it a good moment to remember the importance of women voters to national support for health care reform.
Women are disproportionately affected by poor health care coverage
Because of gender differences in work patterns, women are less likely to have employee coverage, and more likely to have less efficient individual coverage. Compared to men, women report being more likely to delay needed care, and more likely to spend over 10% of their income on health care.
The White House, driven by the First Lady, has made some effort to bring women into the health care debate. But until just recently, those efforts seemed less successful, at least in generating interest.
Women, particularly younger women, are paying less attention to the debate
Thanks to the kind folks at Pew, we were able to get crosstabs from recent surveys about attention paid to various issues in the news. They found women to be paying less attention to the health care debate than men up until their October survey.
Examining gender by age, younger women were substantially less likely to be following the debate. In early September, this group was largely divided between following the debate closely (53%) and not closely (48%). At least two-thirds of other gender/age groupings were following the debate closely. In the most recent survey, younger women have begun to catch up with younger men in extent of interest.
Women, particularly younger women, are more supportive of health care reform
While they might not be paying as close attention, polls suggest younger women make up a strong base of support for reform. Gallup has shown more women would advise their Member of Congress to support health care reform, while men would advise their representative to vote against it.
There's actually quite a large difference between older and younger women on this, but little age difference among men. Younger women are one of the demographic groups most likely to advise their representative to vote for health care reform. Older women, however, are evenly divided.
Open Republican hostility to women's health care provides a real opportunity to gain support for reform
Supporters of health care reform should talk to younger women about more than Stupak and abortion. There is plenty of material with which to draw a contrast with reform opponents. See, for example, Senator Kyl's (R-AZ) sneering hostility to maternity care, or Representative Session's (R-TX) likening coverage for woman-specific treatments to coverage for smokers. The very same Senator Enzi (R-WY) who introduced legislation to allow companies to deny coverage of mammograms is now incorrectly using the recent mammogram recommendations as an attack on health care reform. Left unchecked, insurance companies are calling rape and domestic violence pre-existing conditions.
Right now supporters have a good opportunity to make women's health care central to the national conversation. Supporters should remind women which party has been consistently hostile to women's health, and which has not. Politicization of mammograms, and perhaps even the revival of Sarah Palin, threaten to cede some ground among women voters. But women, especially younger women, are ready for our message on reform.
UPDATE: Thanks to the person who alerted me to this 2006 vote, in which ten Senate Republicans voted against coverage to victims of domestic violence. The link also has some other important facts about women and health care reform, such as a C-section frequently being considered a pre-existing condition.