In the latest installment of “WTF Is Going On in Our Country,” Seema Verma, the president’s pick to lead the government’s health insurance programs, recently shared her opinion that maternity care insurance coverage should be optional. Verma, an Indiana health care consultant, told the Senate Finance Committee this past Thursday that patients, rather than the government, should decide whether they want maternity coverage.
According to the Chicago Tribune, this lovely tidbit came to light when Verma was answering questions from Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, who was discussing the Affordable Care Act, which has a provision making maternity and newborn care coverage mandatory for insurance companies. Verma expressed the idea to Stabenow that while some women might want maternity coverage, others “might not choose that.”
Hmm, before I go totally batshit crazy, I’m going to give Verma the benefit of the doubt. I suppose there are some women who would knowingly opt out of having an insurance plan that covers maternity care. There are plenty of women who don’t plan on having children anytime soon, or ever. And yes, there are absolutely some women out there who are physically unable to have children or who are past their childbearing years.
These women should be able to choose a plan that does not have maternity coverage, maybe at a lesser cost even. That sounds fair, right?
But wait a sec. Let’s say you’re one of the women who decides kids just aren’t going to happen or who thought her uterus was out of business and so opted out of a plan that has maternity coverage. Then — oops! — you’re preggo! Well, you didn’t choose an insurance plan that gives a shit about that, and so you’re screwed.
Of course, this is not just a made-up scenario: According to the CDC, approximately 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. And who the hell knows what might happen if our access to birth control gets slashed all over the place if/when the Affordable Care Act is dismantled.
I’m not the only one scratching her head over the logic of Verma’s comments. The March of Dimes, an organization founded by President Franklin Roosevelt and dedicated to protecting moms and babies in utero, at birth, and beyond, released a scathing statement criticizing Verma’s remarks. The statement, released Thursday, was written by Stacey D. Stewart, the president of March of Dimes, and begins with Stewart expressing her disappointment over Verma’s comments, adding: “Maternity coverage is not a luxury, and should not be considered an optional benefit.”
A-freaking-men. Maternity care coverage should never, ever be thought of as a luxury reserved for those fortunate enough to receive it. I can’t believe we are living in a time when we have to defend something as basic as this.
Stewart doesn’t stop there, underlining the point that almost all women will need maternity care coverage at some point in their lives. “Women and their partners should be able to make decisions about starting a family based on what’s right for them, not the restrictions in their insurance coverage,” writes Stewart.
She then points out that pregnancy is not always something you can plan for in advance (duh!), and offering health insurance plans that don’t have maternity care built into them could set a woman up for a disastrous situation if she were to find herself unexpectedly pregnant.
Additionally, Stewart describes how a plan such as Verma’s could potentially make insurance plans with maternity coverage less affordable, leaving women no choice in some cases but to choose a plan without maternity coverage. “Isolating maternity care into a limited set of optional policies will mean the actuarial risk is spread over fewer people and the costs may become unaffordable to those considering pregnancy,” explains Stewart.
And guess what happens when women don’t have insurance that covers their maternity needs? Well, awful things that should never happen to mother and babies. As Stewart explains: “[W]omen who did not select or could not afford plans that cover pregnancy could be forced to forgo prenatal care and treatment for conditions such as pregnancy-related high blood pressure or diabetes. Ultimately, this would lead to maternal or infant deaths, preterm birth and other adverse birth outcomes.”
As if we didn’t need something else to be pissed as fuck about, it turns out that the government agency that Seema Verma has been nominated to head is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. So her decisions about maternity care coverage could impact our poorest and most needful populations. Currently, all Medicaid members are guaranteed maternity care coverage, but I guess that’s something no one should get too comfortable with.
And if you think something like Medicaid insurance is only for “those people” or a select few, you’re dead wrong. According to Medicaid’s November 2016 enrollment report, 69 million Americans were covered under Medicaid — including pregnant women, of course.
So yeah, maybe someone like Verma shouldn’t exactly be heading something like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services unless she can show a little more understanding of something basic like the fact that every single freaking recipient should be covered for maternity care — no exceptions.
As Stacey D. Stewart from the March of Dimes so eloquently states: “Coverage for maternity and newborn care must be included in all health plans, regardless of whether the individual believes she will need that care during the plan year. Both individuals and those who carry coverage for an entire family deserve the peace of mind of knowing they will have access to the services necessary for a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby under any health plan.”
Got it, Seema Verma? You may not think all women need maternity care, but maybe that’s not your business to decide, and maybe it’s time you stepped the hell away from the collective vaginas and uteruses of American women. We’re fiercer than you think.
Just a little warning there.