Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Guest Post: Women on Medicaid Are Being Forgotten in Stupak Outrage

Guest post by Danine Spencer. Originally posted at danine.net.

On Saturday night, my joy and relief at the health care reform bill being passed in the House of Representatives was quickly wiped out by the fury being expressed on Twitter and elsewhere by feminists and progressives over the Stupak amendment. According to the Feminist Majority Foundation, the amendment “bans abortion coverage even if women pay for it with their own money in the public option or private plans in the insurance exchange.”

This is obviously a big deal. In a press release, FMF’s president Ellie Smeal said:

“Millions of poor and middle class women will be denied abortion coverage. Millions more may lose abortion coverage because currently some 85% of private plans now have such coverage.”

I agree the Stupak amendment is terribly, terribly wrong. It is, as Ms. Smeal said, “an unacceptable, giant step backward for women.” Still, abortion cannot be allowed to derail health care reform. This is far too important to me and millions of other women – and men. Health care reform is about life and death. Out-of-control premiums and medical bills are forcing families to choose between buying groceries for their kids, paying the mortgage or obtaining life-saving medical treatment and prescription drugs.

Health care reform is not about abortion. Bart Stupak and the other “pro-life” members of Congress should be ashamed of themselves for hijacking what may be the most important piece of legislation of our time. This is truly a matter of life and death.

Abortion cannot be allowed to derail health care reform. Still, there is another issue that has been overlooked in the outrage over the Stupak amendment. According to the Kaiser Foundation, 9.5 million women are currently on Medicaid. The federal standard for Medicaid requires abortion coverage only in situations where the mother’s life is in danger or in the case of rape or incest. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia only provide this level of coverage while seventeen states exceed federal requirements, funding “all or most medically necessary abortions”.

If abortion doesn’t derail the bill and we actually get health care reform passed, Medicaid’s ranks will expand to include 150% of the Federal Poverty Level, including millions more women.

What about poor women? Don’t we deserve abortion coverage as part of our reproductive rights? Where is the outrage for us? It seems like the feminist movement has simply forgotten about the poorest and sickest of women, those who are most likely to be in need of abortion services. Indeed, many women enroll in Medicaid because they are pregnant and uninsured. Our society has created a safety net for low-income women when they get pregnant but that safety net is full of knots and hard to break free of.

Medicaid’s income limits keep women mired in poverty. StateHealthFacts.org reports that 52.3% of non-elderly families receiving Medicaid have at least one full-time worker, which means that worker is working full-time but doesn’t have health insurance through their job. In order to keep their Medicaid, they cannot earn more than the FPL eligibility limits for their state. If they do earn more than the limits, they risk losing their health insurance.

Furthermore, 47.8% of the non-elderly on Medicaid work part-time or not at all. These people are not eligible for employer-sponsored plans and will probably be unable to afford any plans in the new insurance exchange. They will be stuck on Medicaid. Without abortion coverage.

It has been extremely frustrating and infuriating to watch the uproar over the Stupak amendment. It feels like the feminist movement has forgotten about the poor, sick and disabled women who are on Medicaid and only have access to abortion services under the Hyde Amendment.

Those of us on Medicaid deserve the same reproductive rights that everyone else is entitled to. We are not second-class citizens. We’re women.

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