Health care for all?

It’s been a while since I’ve had time to write in this space. Several times over the last months I have begun and then discarded my inadequate attempts to make sense of the increasingly wacked out world in which we live.

But then other stuff got in the way, like parenting and cooking dinner and laundry and celebrating birthdays and, you know, life, and the days melted into months.

So now, here we are, creeping up on six months since all hell broke loose in Washington, D.C. And I find myself alone in my house, as my children and spouse are otherwise engaged in the pursuit of summertime pleasures, with nothing to do but watch MSNBC and/or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt OR write a blog post. And since I watched a couple Kimmys last night and ate my lunch while watching MSNBC, I thought I’d write.

Just joshing. I’m giving it more thought than that. I’ve actually been struggling with how to wrap my head around this whole health care nightmare.

Not sure what’s going to happen, but I know that it’s not going to benefit me or anyone I know. How do I know this? Because from what I can tell, the only winners in this whole debacle are the ultrawealthy who will gain a large tax break with the death of the Affordable Care Act tax, which subsidized Medicaid expansion and access for others to the health care system.

And no one in my circle of trust or life or what-have-you will be accessing any of that cash.

So my thoughts, naturally, go to my children and those with whom I work. Most of those guys are covered by Medicaid under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Their parents can seek out yearly physicals and mental health services for their kids through their managed Medicaid health plans. My own kids always have been fortunate their parents’ jobs include the option to buy health insurance, and so they’ve never gone without.

But my oldest two children are 21 and 19. They’ve got one foot out of the nest. And, like my father before me, I worry about whether they’ll be able to find jobs once they’re finished with college that will provide health insurance. This will be especially important for them because they each, along with their younger brother, have what insurance companies will consider pre-existing conditions.

My oldest child has asthma, a condition he developed after contracting RSV as an infant. His brother and sister both have celiac disease, an inherited autoimmune condition. These conditions are mild, as far as health issues go. But they are chronic and lifelong.

I remember my parents telling me, when I was nearing the end of college, that I needed to aim to get a job that provided health insurance. And I didn’t really even have a pre-existing condition.

Except, as it turns out, that I did. I had a big one.

I’m a woman.

Yes, that was a shocker to the 23-year-old me, figuring out that my very identity made me a risk to my health insurer.

And to think that I’d lived all those years and never realized how risky I was. What a waste. To think of what I could have accomplished had I known. I was oblivious.

But one day, shortly into my tenure at my first newspaper job and after the prescribed waiting period, my health insurance took effect. Yay! I was excited. I had Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Kansas, because my employer was a newspaper owned by Stauffer Communications, based in Topeka, Kan. (This is only mildly interesting, but I must point out that Mary Stauffer, granddaughter of the company’s founder, is married to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.)

My hubs and I had been married about six months, and for part of that time I’d been covered on his insurance through the Boy Scouts of America, where he worked. But with an actual full-time job, I would qualify for my own coverage. And at that point in my life, about the only thing I needed was access to birth control pills.

We’d been married less than a year. We were 23. And we were in no way, shape or form ready to be parents. Under the Boy Scouts’ health insurance plan, my birth control pills were covered, except for a reasonable co-pay. And I assumed it would be the same under my new Blue Cross plan.

But when I went to pick up my prescription that month, I found out otherwise when I had to fork over $50 for the 30-day pack.

It was 1992. I made less than $16,000 a year. The hubs made not a lot more. And that $50 was a big hunk of money. Much less than raising a child, to be sure, but still, it was ginormous for a couple of kids who sometimes went to the grocery store on a Saturday and feasted on samples to save a few bucks. There must have been a mistake, I figured, so I called the insurance company.

Nope, they said. Your policy doesn’t cover birth control pills. Or birth control in any form.

“Gosh,” I said to the customer service representative. “What about maternity care? Is that covered?”

“Oh, yes, there is coverage,” the woman on the line said.

I remember sitting in silence.

“So,” I said, “if I get pregnant, go to the doctor for nine months and have the baby in a hospital, all that is covered?”

“Yes,” she said, as if speaking to a small child.

“But the birth control pills aren’t covered,” I said.

“No,” she said.

“So nine months of maternity care and the birth and a short hospital stay is covered,” I said. “But $400 or so yearly to keep from getting pregnant is not covered.”

“No,” she said.

I remember asking, “Does that make sense to you?”

But I don’t remember her final answer.

So I worry. I worry about all my kids and their current and future health needs. I worry about my daughter, who because she is a woman will be penalized under the health care bills put forth by both the U.S. House and Senate. I am concerned about both my parents and my in-laws, who are in their 70s and on Medicare.

And I worry about my clients, many of whom couldn’t afford to be able to see doctors regularly for preventive health care without Medicaid.

I worry.


Welcome to 1958

Ok, people, I have something to say about all this birth control rigmarole. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple weeks, ever since the whole contrived annoyance with the healthcare mandate’s birth control provision hit the 24-hour news cycle.

I just haven’t been able to condense what I want to say.

But thank you, Rush Limbaugh. You have successfully elevated my anger and disbelief to the level at which I just have to say something.

In case you don’t know what Rush did, click here. I can’t really bear to repeat his slanderous statements about a Georgetown University law student denied the chance to address members of the U.S. Congress about this manufactured, 1960s-era issue. She wanted to testify on behalf of a friend, who’s a lesbian and has ovarian cancer and needs the Pill for treatment.

I’m not sure if Rush Limbaugh understands that lesbians really don’t need the Pill for birth control. Someone might want to draw him a picture.

But I digress.

So here’s what I want to say. If you have ovaries and a uterus – or if you’ve ever had ovaries and a uterus – this should be the issue that causes you to call your member of Congress, your Senator, even your state representative. Because this is more than about whether you can have access to birth control pills – a right women have had since the early 1960s.

This isn’t about whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, a Catholic or a Protestant, a liberal or a conservative. This is about the rights of your daughters and your granddaughters to have the same unfettered access you’ve had, to take control of their reproductive lives and move from someone who merely breeds to someone with a larger purpose in life.

This is about a battle we, as women, won before I even was born. And we can’t be complacent.

Hey, I don’t even have a personal dog in this fight anymore. I’m 43. My husband has had a vasectomy. I’m cruising toward menopause.

But there was a time when I was in my early 20s that I had to scrape and scrimp to pay for my birth control pills. And excuse me, Mr. Limbaugh, but I wasn’t some sex-crazed, swinging college girl. I was a married woman – a monogamous, married woman. Not a slut. Not a prostitute.

Yet my husband and I knew that we weren’t ready to be parents yet. That was one of our goals, yes, but not at 22. So we budgeted our meager newspaper reporters’ salaries to pay for my pills, because my health insurance didn’t cover them.

I remember calling that company and asking why they didn’t cover the Pill but would cover pregnancy and delivery. Couldn’t get a good answer.  Even back then, a healthy, uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery cost between $5,000 and $10,000. And, as it turned out, my pregnancies ended up high-risk because of another health problem. So they would have cost even more.

That’s what makes me so mad. Not everyone who uses birth control pills is wantonly bedding men left and right. But frankly, what if they are? It’s apparently OK for men to do whatever they want between the sheets – as long as it’s with a woman – but women can’t play by those rules.

You know, I find talking about sex distasteful and am livid that I am forced to write a blog about what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms. But Rush Limbaugh has driven me to it.

Apparently, Rush and his cronies don’t want people to have sex if they don’t intend to procreate. If you do have sex and don’t intend to procreate but end up pregnant, well, too bad for you. And it’s seriously too bad for you if you’re poor and unmarried, because you’re just going to have to live with your consequences.

And if that means that you can’t afford to feed your baby or pay someone to watch your baby while you work, oh, well. You should have invested in some aspirin, I guess. Or worked harder to pull up those bootstraps. Or been born into a better-off family. Or moved to Sweden.

Look, the fact that we’re debating this issue in 2012 is beyond ridiculous, as is any discussion of whether amniocentesis contributes to abortions or whether it’s a good idea to force pregnant women to undergo transvaginal ultrasounds.

That one stumps me, the ultrasound issue. Hey, Mr. Politician-With-the-Bright-Ultrasound-Idea. Guess how much the average transvaginal ultrasound costs. Answer: hundreds of dollars. How much does a month of birth control pills cost? Answer: as low as $15, depending on the pill. How much does it cost to raise a baby from birth to adulthood? Answer: about $440,000, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s child-raising cost calculator.

Now, I’m not too good at math, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out which one of those costs the most.

So please, for the sake of the battle your mothers and grandmothers and aunts waged, please don’t let this issue go. Speak up for yourselves, your daughters, your nieces, the checker at your neighborhood grocery store, your child’s teacher.

Don’t let some blowhard like Rush Limbaugh call you names. Because when he calls one of us a slut, he’s really saying that about all of us.