McCain’s female trouble

New report condemns Republican presidential candidate’s health-care proposal

Illustration By JORDAN YEE

Read the entire report on John McCain’s health-care proposal at

Presidential candidate John McCain’s health-care reform plan would have a devastating impact on women, according to a new analysis.

“Tens of millions of women would be at risk of losing their current insurance coverage even though they use health care services more frequently than men, suffer chronic illness more often than men, and require maternity care and other reproductive health services,” concludes a report by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

The aim of McCain’s health-care plan is to break up the existing employer-based health-care coverage system and replace it with a market-oriented system funded in part by the government. Employers that currently offer health-care coverage would find fewer incentives to continue doing so under the McCain plan. Instead, individuals would be given a tax credit of $2,500 (families would receive $5,000) so that they could shop around on the open market for the best plan for them, whether that insurer is based in the same state or not. The catch, though, is that the private insurance market doesn’t treat women that well.

“In terms of the care that’s available on the open market, it’s generally more expensive for women,” said Deborah Ortiz, a former Sacramento state assemblywoman and senator who now serves as vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which serves 40 counties in California and northern Nevada. “The net effect of McCain’s plan is that it will be even more expensive for women to get insurance.”

The study reports that if McCain’s plan is implemented, “more than 30 million women with employer-sponsored health insurance who suffer from a chronic condition could lose their coverage, find it harder to obtain coverage, or have to purchase supplemental insurance to cover their chronic condition.”

The McCain plan may help healthy people who don’t need frequent health-care services or prescription medication. These people are more likely to be men. Women, on the other hand, are more likely than men to need health care. Women also have higher out-of-pocket medical expenses and are more likely to need prescription medication than men.

So when women, especially those with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, shop for new insurance coverage with McCain’s tax credit, “they are more likely to be charged higher-than-average premiums—even if they have had continuous insurance coverage—and more likely to face significant limits on their health benefits,” the study found.

On its Web site, the McCain campaign counters the claim that chronically ill patients may be denied health care, but offers no real tangible plan for achieving the goal. “As president, John McCain would work with governors to find the solutions necessary to ensure those with pre-existing conditions are able to easily access care,” the campaign states.

Women are further penalized by increased out-of-pocket costs because women have less disposable income than men; even in 2008, a woman only earns 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man. And remember, too, that McCain didn’t support a pay equity proposal in the Senate this past spring, because it “opens us up to lawsuits.”

Under McCain’s plan, women could also lose some important consumer protections that are mandated in certain states, because insurers could be located in a state with fewer consumer protections and still sell to individuals in other states.

“With these changes, the McCain plan would enable insurance companies to cut essential benefits such as contraceptives, Pap smears, and maternity care from their health plans; to charge more for access to these types of essential services; and to deny individuals coverage that will meet their needs,” the report states.

“The biggest irony is that contraception wouldn’t be covered,” said Ortiz, noting that women are far more likely than men to seek birth-control options. “That’s a really important benefit. Maternity care, prenatal care—that would all be cut under the McCain plan.”

Ortiz notes that for many of those without insurance, the local Planned Parenthood clinic is the only source for such services. Given recent state and federal health budget cuts, that task has become even more challenging, and would only be exacerbated by the McCain plan. If insurance companies aren’t required to cover, say, annual pelvic and breast exams, women could have only one place to turn: Planned Parenthood.

“We will continue to do everything we can to provide all of our services,” Ortiz said. “We’re going to be the provider of only resort.”