Monday, December 7, 2009

A Small Health Care Victory

Even though the health care reform debate is still working its way -- very slowly -- through the Senate, a small victory in the name of health care has already been achieved ... and women could be among the largest beneficiaries.

Some of the debate in Washington has centered around women: the fact that women often pay higher premiums than men for insurance, the fact that some states consider pregnancy a pre-existing condition, the fact that some states can even consider domestic violence as a pre-existing condition.

Then there's the stink over the Stupak amendment in the House bill that further restricts a woman's right to choose, and the fact that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) is threatening to derail reform if the Senate bill doesn't follow suit.

But Dianna Hunt of McClatchy/Tribune Newspapers wrote an article detailing a new law that would help women avoid discrimination at the hands of insurance companies. In 2008, Congress passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which as of this week prohibits insurance companies from using family medical histories or genetic testing to deny insurance or set premium rates.

That means that if a woman has a family history of breast or ovarian cancer -- or she has a genetic test conducted to see if she was at risk for such diseases -- insurance companies could not use that fact to dent women coverage or raise they rates.

The law would also prevent employers from letting family histories or genetic markers dictate hiring practices.

Given the partisan bickering in Washington over the issue of health care reform -- and its potential implications on women -- it's hard sometimes to see the small victories along the way. While this law would prove small in the grand scheme of things, it is a victory in America's pursuit for gender equality when it comes to health care.

The issues of rates based on gender, pregnancy and domestic violence as pre-existing conditions and abortions will have to be resolved -- and the latter might very well tank the whole reform effort -- but at least now a woman can find out if she has a genetic disposition to breast or ovarian cancer without worrying if an insurance company will turn her away.

We take the victories where we can get them.

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