Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Domestic violence as a "preexisting condition"

by Jillian Hewitt

This week the Service Employees International Union posted a blog revealing that in 8 states—and the District of Columbia—being a victim of domestic abuse is considered a preexisting condition by many insurance companies. This is so ridiculous that it may make my post seem obvious or unnecessary, but I think it makes it all the more essential to talk about. This is not a controversial talking point; it does not even seem like a political one to me—this is about humanity. Or inhumanity, as it were.

Everyone knows that in this country people with cancer, diabetes, and all number of other diseases are denied healthcare. Everyone with cancer is susceptible, not just those who may have “participated” in their getting cancer, i.e. smokers. Everyone with diabetes is susceptible, not just those who may have “participated” in their developing diabetes by way of an unhealthy lifestyle. Point being, those who are victims of cancer, diabetes, and disease are made victims once again. In this way, denying coverage to people with this type of “preexisting condition” is extremely similar to denying coverage based on one’s status as a victim of domestic violence.

But here’s where the two classifications are different; here’s where it becomes even more disgusting, even more dehumanizing than denying healthcare to those with preexisting medical conditions: by denying coverage to victims of domestic abuse, insurance companies blame the victim when someone else is clearly to blame. It is dehumanizing in the most absolute, clear way—they are treated by insurance companies as investments. Some have more worth than others, some are bigger risks than others; it doesn’t matter why or how they came to be that way. As Ryan Grim wrote in a related Huffington Post article, it is the “cold logic” of the insurance industry. In this case, that logic is detrimental almost exclusively to women, who make up more than 90% of victims of domestic abuse.

I should note that there has been an attempt to end this ridiculous discrimination—Grim notes that in 2006 Senator Pat Murray (D-Wash.) introduced an amendment that would prohibit it; the amendment failed after a 10-10 vote. And in case you were wondering which insurance companies actually take part in this act of punishing the victim, Grim reports that “In 1995, the Boston Globe found that Nationwide, Allstate, State Farm, Aetna, Metropolitan Life, The Equitable Companies, First Colony Life, The Prudential and the Principal Financial Group had all either canceled or denied coverage to women who'd been beaten.” Finally, SEIU is urging people to speak out against the practice by petitioning to the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Domestic Policy, Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). You can do that here.

To be transparent, I’ve been looking for a good starting point to discuss healthcare in this forum. With the discovery (or rediscovery, rather) of this explicitly sexist, dehumanizing practice, should come the realization that we are in desperate need of change with regard to healthcare policy. The practice of treating humans’ health as investments with which to make a profit will continue to cause the abused to be neglected, the sick to be abandoned, and the insurance companies to make profits that go beyond any standard of reasonability.

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