Way back in September 2009, as the Senate was poised to advance the Affordable Care Act past the committee process, then-Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) was pushing an amendment to “prohibit the government from defining which benefits should be included in a standard benefit package.” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) argued, for example, that basic maternity care ought to be required.
“I don’t need maternity care,” Kyl argued. “I think your mom probably did,” Stabenow replied.
It was a pretty great moment in the legislative debate, which seemed to settle the issue – or so I’d hoped. More than four years later, this question about standard benefits in health care coverage, and whether such benefits should cover maternity care, apparently hasn’t gone away. Indeed, at this week’s deeply disappointing House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, featuring hours of odd questions for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.) thought it’d be a good idea to ask the cabinet secretary, “To the best of your knowledge has a man ever delivered a baby?”
Ellmers isn’t the most impressive member of Congress, but I think it’s safe to assume she understands the basics of human anatomy. Ellmers was, after all, a nurse before becoming a far-right politician. Her point, however, was to highlight was she considers “discrimination” – male customers buying insurance will end up paying for a variety of medical services they won’t use.
This, according to the North Carolina Republican, isn’t fair to men. Their insurance, the argument goes, could be cheaper if “Obamacare” didn’t include things like maternity care under the standard benefits package.
But it’s worth appreciating the fact that the Affordable Care Act’s architects set up the system deliberately so that women wouldn’t be penalized for being women, and wouldn’t be forced to pay more for the same coverage as men. Renee Ellmers, for whatever reason, may not approve, but this is a feature not a bug.
Brian Beutler had a good piece on this yesterday.
The Affordable Care Act’s requirement that insurers cover maternity care is a major manifestation of its broader prohibition against gender rating. Before Obamacare, it made sense actuarially for insurers to charge women more than men for coverage on the individual market. The fact that women, rather than men, incur maternity costs was a big part of their justification, though women were also generally charged more for equivalent coverage. By prohibiting the practice, Obamacare doesn’t just strike a blow for moral reasoning. It effectuates a billion-dollar transfer of wealth from men to women.By undertaking to foist the costs of maternity care back onto women alone, Ellmers was proposing, perhaps unwittingly, to transfer all of that wealth from women back to men.
I generally find it difficult to understand when male Republican lawmakers seem to go out of their way to alienate women voters. When GOP women do it, it’s just as bizarre.