On Women’s Equality Day, Sebelius, Barnes and Tchen Pushed on Reproductive Health Care Coverage

In honor of Women’s Equality Day, Deputy Director of the White House’s Office of Public Engagement Tina Tchen, Domestic Policy Council chair Melody Barnes and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius held a conference call for women bloggers and activists, highlighting the significance of health care reform for women.

Invoking the memory of sufragettes who fought for the right of women to vote, Secretary Sebelius said, "Tough town halls are nothing compared to what our sisters put up with
it to make a fundamental change in this country.  And what we’re doing is bringing fundamental
change to this country."

Over half of women surveyed had delayed needed care because of costs; as Sebelius noted, health care reform would put an end to primary care co-pays – meaning women would no longer need to forgo mammograms, colon cancer checkups, cervical cancer screening and other preventive care.   "Delaying care, avoiding care is not something that
leads to a healthier population," Sebelius added.

Among the reasons Melody Barnes cited for reform was that insurance
companies can legally discriminate against women in some states. "This
kind of gender discrimination will never exist again if health reform
able to be passed," said Sebelius.

Barnes reminded listeners that health care reform is important even for
people who have health insurance because of the role it will play in
controlling costs.

When the call opened for questions, nearly every questioner asked about reproductive health care coverage and options under health care reform, pressing for commitments on coverage and the expansion of options.  Asked whether a public option would include coverage for abortion care, Tchen answered, "Decisions about what types of medical procedures covered will be made by medical experts, not politicians in political debate."  She added, "There is longstanding federal policy around public funding for
abortion, stating that there should not be public funding other than through exceptions
laid out in the Hyde Amendment. Health care reform is not going to change
public policy."

The speakers emphasized that the intent for health care reform not to limit health care that Americans already have, but not to force people to pay for coverage that they don’t want, "including abortion."

"It is anticipated that in an exchange there will be choices of programs and policies for people…and as is in the market today, some policies offer full coverage of full range of reproductive rights including abortion and others don’t," said Sebelius. The "[health insurance] exchange programs would have same options."

Could this result in women, wanting a plan that includes comprehensive coverage for abortion care, paying more for insurance policies than men? "Those issues will be addresed under health reform," Sebelius responded.

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  • joan

    You wrote: The speakers emphasized that the intent for health care reform not to
    limit health care that Americans already have, but not to force people
    to pay for coverage that they don’t want, "including abortion." 
    This is the strangest idea I have ever heard of. No one buys health care coverage for abortion because they do NOT plan to have an unplanned pregnancy, they do not plan to have a pregnancy with a fatal fetal anomaly, they do not plan to be in the position of facing choices about what to cut (house, food, electricity, other health care) in oorder to pay for an abortion. No where else in medicine do we allow a very commonly needed, safe, relatively inexpensive medical procedure to be selected OUT of the benefits package — except when it comes to the needs of women. I WANT to believe that President Obama would see the injustice in the Hyde Amendment and change his position to work to reverse Hyde. Over 30 years is enough injustice to women! Hyde’s injustice is especially felt by women in poverty, disporportionately women of color and young women.

  • margaret-conway

    Over on Firedoglake, Christy Hardin Smith also reported about this.  She said that, "Tina Tchen from the White House Office of Public Engagement stepped
    in to say that it wasn’t ‘productive to talk about issues outside the
    health care process.’" 

    Is that what you heard too Emily? I’m not really clear how reproductive health is outside the health care process, but I won’t go on a rant if that was a misinterpretation of the conversation.


  • crowepps

    The speakers emphasized that the intent for health care reform not to limit health care that Americans already have, but not to force people to pay for coverage that they don’t want, “including abortion.”

    I don’t have any trouble excluding people from coverage who don’t want that coverage. I don’t see where that idea can be extended to excluding the coverage itself. Since there are no government-required abortions in the United States (even though this causes medical costs to increase overall) this would be more accurately stated as ‘not to force people to pay for coverage that they don’t want OTHER PEOPLE TO HAVE, “including abortion”.


    *SARCASM ON* Let’s see, if ‘people’ get to choose what can be covered for others, I personally don’t want the coverage to include treatment of physical side effects of prolonged alcohol or drug abuse, alcohol or drug abuse itself (since I don’t drink/drug), male ‘sexual dysfunction’ (not a disease), any injury arising because of a fight while the patient was drunk (since I don’t fight/drink), injuries sustained by drunken or reckless drivers (since I’m neither), prostate problems (since I don’t have one), treatment for obesity or its side effects like diabetes (since I’m not overweight), or the prenatal or obstetric costs involved with any pregnancy after the first two (since I only have two children).


    After all, if people can’t afford to pay those costs, they should stop the bad behavior, and certainly after each parent has their replacement they should just stop having sex instead of burdening the taxpayer/insurance pool with excess offspring everyone else will have to pay to educate. *SARCASM OFF*


    I’m sure all of us could come up with a long list of things it would be a waste of money to provide to other people who ‘should have made better choices’. Mortality rates would surely climb, but then, it’s all their own fault, isn’t it? If the idea is to use government interference in health care to judge behavior, rewarding the good and punishing the bad, I suppose this is perfectly logical. If however, the idea is to save lives and get people healthy, I am sure sick of women being second class citizens because other people want to force their religious beliefs/personal ethics onto others.