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Domestic violence as a pre-existing condition

Domestic violence denied stamp

It seems like every week during the health reform debate, some new cruelty in our health care system is revealed.  For example, last week the office of House Rules Committee chair, Louise Slaughter (D-NY), released this statement:

Slaughter has worked to insert a provision into the health care bill that would ban insurance companies from denying coverage to women by calling domestic violence a “pre-existing condition”.  The provision would go into effect on January 10, 2010.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that a woman can be denied coverage because she was a victim of domestic abuse, and I am proud that we are putting an end to this deplorable practice,” said Slaughter. “I was personally offended by this practice on the part of insurance companies, and I worked with my colleagues in the House leadership to guarantee that women who are victims of domestic abuse will be able to receive health care that women in America receive the quality health care they deserve.”

Yep, that’s right- apparently in DC and eight other states, it’s legal for insurers to reject applicants who are survivors of domestic violence, because domestic abuse can be considered a pre-existing condition.  Huffington Post explains their rationale:

Under the cold logic of the insurance industry, it makes perfect sense: If you are in a marriage with someone who has beaten you in the past, you’re more likely to get beaten again than the average person and are therefore more expensive to insure.

In human terms, it’s a second punishment for a victim of domestic violence.

In 1995, the Boston Globe found that companies that deny or have canceled coverage to battered women included Nationwide, Allstate, State Farm, Aetna, Metropolitan Life, The Equitable Companies, First Colony Life, The Prudential and the Principal Financial Group.  Since then, it’s a little unclear which companies, if any, are still denying coverage to those who have been beaten by their partners.  State Farm, for one, has changed its position:

“We became aware that we were part of the reason a woman and her children might not leave an abuser. They were afraid they’d lose their insurance. And we wanted no part of that.'”

Still, it’s appalling that this practice is still legal.  So you’d think that Louise Slaughter’s provision is a no brainer– who would vote to continue discriminating against victims of domestic abuse, right?  Turns out that in 2006, when a similar amendment was introduced in the Senate HELP Committee, ten Republican senators voted against it, and the amendment died.  That’s worth repeating: Ten Republican senators voted against making it illegal to deny coverage based on past domestic abuse.

Those ten Senators were: Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Pat Roberts (R-KA), John Ensign (R-NV), Judd Gregg (R-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Bill Frist (R-TN), and Mike Enzi (R-WY). (All except for Bill Frist are still serving and pictured below.)

ten senators

You might recognize Mike Enzi’s name from this year’s health reform debate.  Enzi was a member of Max Baucus’s so-called “Gang of Six” that was working to create a bipartisan bill in the Senate Finance Committee.  At the time he defended his vote, saying that regulations like that would increase the price of insurance premiums.

Here’s the thing with that.  Recently, Mike Enzi has also said:

I will fight any proposal that suggests rationing health care, particularly for seniors. Longer waiting times for imaging, surgery or treatment is a form of rationing.

Yet three years ago he voted against an amendment that would give victims of domestic abuse access to health insurance, on the grounds that it would be too expensive.  Perhaps the Senator should look up the definition of the word “rationing.”

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Jay November 9, 2009, 4:52 pm

    I think it’s tragic that the Republicans and conservative media figures are having such success casting the health care debate as an epic, Lord of the Rings-style conflict between capitalism and socialism while things like this are going on. Besides ignoring the fact that the United States has had a mixed economy for as long as there has been a nation to speak of, it sweeps under the rug true stories about the runaway capitalist system that are every bit as frightening as the fantasies they weave about what a public health plan might be like. I have my doubts about government bureaucracy as well, but when we have tangible evidence of this caliber of malfeasance under the current system, stubbornly blocking reform for political reasons is kind of evil.

  • Rob November 12, 2009, 2:46 pm

    I agree– even with all the potential shortcomings of government bureaucracy, it’s still hard to imagine a government-run system that would be crueler than what we have now. And I think you can see that in the Republican talking points– the only way to portray a “government takeover” as worse than the current system was to invent something as completely insane as death panels for old people.

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