Republicans spent 45 hours this week debating the introductory version of the American Health Care Act (a bill with the modest aim of completely altering America’s entire health insurance system). Naturally, it didn’t stop some from revealing their discomfort with the idea of having a broad health insurance system.
During an appearance on CNN Tuesday, House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz suggested low-income Americans can’t afford health care because they’re purchasing iPhones — if only they would settle for a good old secondhand Motorola Razr flip phone, they could afford Pap smears.
But Republican Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois took the cake on Thursday night when he questioned why men aren’t exempt from paying into insurance plans that cover prenatal care. “What about men having to purchase prenatal care?” he said. “Is that not correct? And should they?”
That’s not quite how health care works
Shimkus, who has made it his mission to reduce women’s access to abortion, wants to get involved in women’s decision to end a pregnancy but not in the essential care they need when they wish to maintain one.
First of all, these services reduce the likelihood of complications for mothers but also ensure the long-term health of infants.
Then there’s the fact that, shockingly, women do not self-impregnate. Contrary to popular belief, women cannot yet 3D-print children. Although there have been such advances in technology that women can download a pizza finder on their phones, they can’t use them to fertilize their ovaries. Women can get pregnant with fertilization treatments (or with the help of a turkey baster), but advances in technology don’t yet allow us to make babies without the direct or indirect role of men.
And of course, like every other person on earth, Shimkus was presumably birthed by a woman. But prenatal care is not like barre class — it’s not something women do for fun. It serves a purpose for anyone who has been birthed by a woman. And, yes, that does include men.
Besides, Shimkus’s suggestion refutes the most fundamental principle of the health insurance system. Neither men nor women get to determine the items they want to cover, as Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) argued with Shimkus. If individuals could pick and choose what they wanted their money to go toward, which Shimkus seems to be alluding to, there would be no system to speak of.
The point is that both sick and healthy people pay into the same system to balance the costs for everyone insured. Men refusing to pay for prenatal care because they don’t have a uterus is as ludicrous as women refusing to pay for prostate cancer screenings because they don’t have prostates.
The assumption that the cost of prenatal care should only be paid for by women suggests that it’s acceptable for women to be charged more for their health care, simply because of their gender. Charging women more for those services discriminates against them based on their gender, something the Affordable Care Act tried to eradicate and that the AHCA wants to preserve by ensuring that women’s preventive services remain covered.
Besides, prenatal services are crucial to the overall well-being of the country. The United States trails other rich countries when it comes to maternal mortality rate. In fact, it’s only gotten worse recently, which is counter to the declining maternal mortality rate around the world. Indeed, for every 100,000 births, 28 mothers die in the United States in 2015. That’s compared with 23 per 100,000 births only two years prior.
Experts attribute this change to many factors, but partially to disparities in access to health care. African-American women for instance, are three times as likely as white women to die while they are pregnant or when giving birth. The health and safety of mothers is an emblem of a country’s overall well-being. Women’s health care is not like guacamole: It’s not extra. Prenatal services are crucial in reversing figures that are unsettling to begin with.
Perhaps if conservatives can agree on what they are trying to solve with the AHCA, they would have more productive conversations about how to make it better. Given that Donald Trump, a man who slaps his name on everything from buildings to steaks, is reluctant to even attach his own name to the health care bill is perhaps a sign that he knows it doesn’t fulfill the many promises he said it would. Hopefully, his supporters start to notice before it’s too late.