In just a few weeks, Obamacare’s health insurance marketplaces will open for business and millions of Americans will be able to purchase quality, affordable health coverage for the very first time. As red states, blue states, and the Obama administration are racing ahead with implementing the law, Republicans in Congress are threatening to shut down the government or force a national debt default unless Obamacare is defunded.
One group should be paying special attention to this last-ditch effort to undermine Obamacare: women. They have much to gain from the health care law and much to lose if Republicans get their way.
Gender inequality in health care runs deep and the new health law will end such discrimination. Right now, insurance companies on average charge women 50 percent more than men for the same insurance coverage simply because of their gender. This discriminatory practice is almost universal today but Obamacare bans it once and for all starting next year. So when anti-tax crusading House Republicans voted 7,386 times to repeal Obamacare, they effectively voted to impose a 50 percent health care tax on women.
It doesn’t end there. In 2011 alone, women enrolled in Medicare saved $1.2 billion as a result of improvements in prescription drug coverage. Who knew that the Republicans actually like the idea of $1.2 billion in new taxes to be imposed on the backs of women?
In an effort to thwart Obamacare, Republicans are trying to enable insurance companies to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions. Women have often been on the losing end of insurers' whims. C-sections, breast and cervical cancers and even medical treatment for domestic or sexual abuse have been considered pre-existing conditions. This type of discrimination against women should be illegal—and it will be starting next year thanks to Obamacare.
If Republicans had their way, more than 26.9 million women would be charged expensive co-pays and deductibles for preventive services like life-saving breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control and well-woman visits. By opposing the Affordable Care Act, Republicans are supporting insurers to place lifetime caps on insurance for nearly 40 million women, thereby preventing coverage just when many women need it most. They also seek to eliminate health care for 1.1 million young women between the ages of 19 and 25 who now have access to health care under their parents' health insurance coverage.
Being a women should not be a preexisting condition and it should not mean higher health care costs, yet Republicans are apparently willing to shut down the government in order to allow insurance companies to maintain these discriminatory practices. Do Republicans really want to deny 18.6 million uninsured women the opportunity to purchase insurance coverage through the health insurance exchanges going live in 2014?
Republicans in Congress have wasted years trying to repeal Obamacare, but have yet to offer any serious alternative on how to tackle one of the most important social and public policy challenges of our time.
Too many women in this country fight day-to-day to make ends meet, raise their children, and find a way to cover health care costs. These women are doing the right thing and playing by the rules. When it comes to health care, Republicans have nothing to offer these women—nothing except a long record of doing everything possible to deny them and their families the security of quality, affordable health care.
The women who benefit from Obamacare are not Democrats and are not Republicans. They are Americans. Gender inequality in health care coverage has been the status quo for far too long.
The Republicans who would deny coverage and benefits to women would simultaneously levy a tax on women and an attack on women—consider this the modern Republicans' twofer. It is too bad that the libertarian gospel so fashionable among Republican revivalists these days choose not see that their over dramatic efforts to stop Obamacare would ultimately be a major economic burden to women simply because of their gender.
A majority of Americans, including a majority of Independent voters oppose the GOP’s last, desperate efforts to stop Obamacare. Instead of more dead-end repeal votes and threats to devastate the economy unless they get their way, Congressional Republicans should finally stand with the women and families they serve.
Buffy Wicks is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.