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Gutted Health Care Bill Ignores This Nation's Best Opportunity for Reform

What does it say about our society when government requires us to purchase health insurance and fines us for not doing so yet provides no support to make this possible?
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By Judy Patrick and Karla Rodriguez

The stripped health care "reform" bill fails to leverage the power of those who have the greatest potential to determine and maintain good health for all of us: women. We all suffer when women -- this nation's primary health care decision-makers and consumers -- do not have what they need to be healthy.

Most people agree that the health care system in the United States is in desperate need of reform. Too few people have access to quality health care. Insurance and pharmaceutical companies hold us hostage. Treatment, not prevention, is the focus of care because it helps rich companies get richer.

The current health care reform bill in the US Senate is not reform at all and, in fact, creates greater barriers for all of us. The bill offers no public option, diminishes a woman's right to choose if or when she has children, reduces consumer choice around prescription medication and requires everyone to buy health insurance.

What happened to free will in a free market economy? What does it say about our society when government requires us to purchase health insurance and fines us for not doing so yet provides no support to make this possible? And while we're asking questions, what happened to this being about health and care?

The limitations of this bill affect all of us and affect younger adults, low-wage workers, the elderly, women and immigrants the most. These groups represent the most vulnerable populations to health inequities who have the most to lose, while health insurance and pharmaceutical companies have the most to gain. If the bill passes, we will end up with a system that is based on private insurers that have no incentive to control their costs or the costs of pharmaceutical companies and medical providers. To conform to the present health care "reform" bill is to surrender our choices and to drive a deeper wedge between the "haves" and the "have-nots."

Congressional leaders have forsaken the health needs of their constituents in favor of protecting the profits of big health business. Perhaps our representatives need to be reminded of the millions of people in our country whose health rights are being denied.

While it has become widely understood that when women are healthy, their children are healthy, their families are healthy, communities are healthy and so on, low-income workers (60% of whom are women) have the least access to health care. When examining the rates of uninsured by race, 13.4% of European-American women are uninsured while nearly 40% of Latinas lack health insurance.

In California, more people are born outside the US than in any other state. Of these 9.9 million residents, 3.3 million are legal residents, who are mandated to wait a full five years before being eligible for Medicare and Medicaid coverage under the bill.

What benefits are left for low-wage workers, women, immigrants and elders in a health care reform bill that does not provide quality, affordable, health care for all of us?

After many months of debating, advocating, testifying, arm twisting, we may realize some changes to our health care system that are a mere shadow of what should be possible.

We must continue to push forward to achieve all that we can in this piece of legislation, but we should be disappointed and angry that the interests of a few of our elected officials and those of the health care industry will carry the day. We must continue to advocate for policies that definitively expand access to quality health care, abolish unjust practices of insurers and provide quality affordable health care for all people living in the US.

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