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Women Still Penalized for Pre-Existing Conditions in Senate Health Care Bill

January 14, 2010

Amid the increasingly fierce debates over health care reform, one issue that seemed nearly resolved was discrimination provisions and preventing the abuse of "pre-existing condition" designations. But as Adele M. Stan astutely points out at AlterNet, a provision in the Senate bill would disproportionately affect women – effectively neutralizing efforts to level the playing field of health care coverage. Flying dangerously under the radar, the provision allows insurers to expand so-called "wellness programs." As Stan explains, if subscribers do not meet designated "wellness targets," such as a particular cholesterol number, blood sugar measurement or body-weight target, insurers are allowed to penalize them by hundreds or even thousands of dollars. People with chronic conditions, and people who have no time for exercise because of care-giving responsibilities, are clearly the most susceptible to penalties under the Senate bill – and of course, most of the people in these categories are women. The National Partnership for Women and Families has also compiled an issue brief on the provision, detailing how it penalizes especially those women caring for children or elders or both. The American Heart Association, along with the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association, has written a letter to congressional leaders asking that the Senate's wellness program provision be dropped in favor of the House's language that does not penalize subscribers for failure to meet so-called wellness targets. As Stan reports, some 200 advocacy organizations have signed the AHA letter so far.