Friday, November 1, 2013

Men, Women, and Obamacare: HHS Secretary Sibelius Grilled about Requirement That Men Help Pay for Maternity Care

There has been interesting commentary about the grilling of the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sibelius this week by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Two statements that stand out for me:

At Salon, Brian Beutler notes the bizarre premise of Rep. Renee Ellmers's (R-NC) attack on Secretary Sibelius regarding the issue of maternity coverage: Ellmers is outraged that men are required by the Affordable Healthcare Act to share the cost of women's maternity care. As Beutler writes,

By undertaking to foist the costs of maternity care back onto women alone, Ellmers was proposing, perhaps unwittingly, to transfer all of that wealth from women back to men. Take her point to its logical conclusion and she was also arguing for absolving anyone who’s genetically insulated from certain medical expenses from paying a penny to treat others who aren’t so lucky. Born with a harmful BRCA mutation? Then the cost of financing breast cancer treatment should be entirely on you and your unfortunate peers. Got the Huntington’s disease gene? Buh-bye!

And as Robert David Sullivan notes for America, citing Jonathan Chait, what's at the bottom of the objection to the requirement that men must buy healthcare plans supporting women's maternity care is the old right-wing obsession with anything that smacks of redistribution of wealth: Sullivan writes,

But it’s astounding that conservatives voice such outrage about men having to buy plans that cover maternity care. Do they have mothers? Do they think their wives, sisters, and nieces are freeloaders because Obamacare won’t let insurance plans charge them more for being able to bear children? Is it unfair that guys in their 20s can’t buy plans that exclude hip replacements, or that people of European heritage can’t buy cheaper plans that don’t cover treatment for sickle cell anemia?

There is, in strong sectors of the American public, a deep inbred resistance to the notion that it is my responsibility to assist you in any way at all to deal with the socioeconomic challenges with which you struggle on the margins of society. Because I am in no way connected to you. I got my own through hard work, and you can do the same. Your economic privation is a sign that God has not blessed you as God has blessed me, and this must mean that, unlike me, you are immoral and therefore deserving of God's judgment.

This mentality in no way grapples with the notion of the common good, with the recognition that we are all intimately related and that what affects you also affects me--that, as the Roman poet Horace put the point, when your house burns down and you are my neighbor, my house is affected. The U.S. bishops have, unfortunately and to their great discredit as moral teachers, fanned the flames of this anti-communitarian feeling so deeply rooted in American culture by nattering on about how we cannot "cooperate with evil" by buying healthcare plans that support activities (e.g., the use of contraceptives) that we Catholics recognize as immoral. 

By its very nature, the coverage of healthcare through insurance plans is a communitarian venture that requires me to help you deal with health challenges that may in no way affect my own life--except insofar as you and I are connected in the social network. And we are so connected. When any society allows any of its members to go without access to basic healthcare coverage, we are all affected. We all pay the price of the ill health of those shoved to the margins. We do so in manifold ways.

And what happens to women as they deal with issues of health affects men as well. As Beutler says, isn't it astonishing that Renee Ellmers is the House GOP's designated spokesperson for women's issues?

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