The entirely male panel tasked with drafting the Senate’s version of the American Health Care Act is problematic for U.S. consumers, because it isn’t representative of the group of Americans who really drive health care consumerism.
An established point of understanding in the health care industry is that women are the nation’s health care decision-makers. According to the Department of Labor, women make 80 percent of all health care decisions in the U.S. and are significantly more likely to be caregivers when a loved one falls ill.
Excluding women from the health reform panel is ill-conceived. These are the constituents with the most direct contact with our nation’s dysfunctional, fragmented health care system, and they should be represented.
Why women are the decision-makers
There are two key reasons U.S. women, on average, make more health care decisions than men. First, women access the health care system at an earlier and more consistent rate than men do, largely driven by physician-recommended annual visits. Women also have more direct contact with the health care system through pregnancy.
Second, women are more likely than men to be caregivers, not just for children but for all family members. According to a study published by the Center for Talent Innovation, 94 percent of women with children under 18 are the chief health care decision-maker for their family, including spouses, parents, and in-laws.
Representatives should hear from the Americans who would be affected by these decisions.
Women “set the health and wellness agenda for themselves and others, choose treatment regimens and hire and fire doctors, pharmacists and insurance providers,” according to the study.
What women would add to the Senate panel
Health care decision-makers understand which parts of our health care system are most complicated, confusing or inefficient for consumers. Those making family medical decisions personally know the frustration of a physician suddenly being out-of-network or an insurer refusing to pay a claim. They know how exasperating it can be to play phone tag on referrals and lab results.
Men and women alike experience these health care frustrations. But studies show women bear them more often. And no matter who makes the health care decision in your family, we would all benefit from having some female consumer voices at the negotiation table.
This is especially true as the Republican party seeks to reform the health care system into a more “consumer-driven” one. The GOP’s plan would likely lead to lower costs, but consumers would bear more of them. Representatives should hear from the Americans who would be affected by these decisions.
Not a niche issue
Further, there is a tendency in the U.S. to view women’s health care as a niche issue. It’s possible the Senate leadership excluded women because they didn’t want to derail their goal of lowering premiums via cuts to insurance regulations. The group faces significant pushback, especially from women, against cuts to regulations requiring coverage for maternity, newborn, pediatric and reproductive healthcare.
Women may have a unique interest in protecting these “Essential Health Benefits,” but they aren’t the only ones affected by potential cuts. The same regulation that requires insurers to cover maternity coverage requires coverage for services used by men and women alike.
It could be argued that legislators excluded women from the panel to limit criticism during the drafting stage. But again, legislators ostracize women’s health care at their own peril. If EHBs are waived, women will almost certainly pay more for coverage, but so will men with pre-existing conditions.
By excluding women from its panel, the Senate is not just excluding half the population. The Senate appears to be purposefully limiting its perspective, opening itself to criticism right from the start of what proves to be a hard road ahead anyway.