President Obama’s health reform proposal is not good for women, so it’s ironic he’s pushing it through during Women’s History Month.

His plan amounts to “a giant leap backward for women,” says the National Organization for Women (NOW).

This assessment is based on three main problems: a failure to ban gender rating in a timely fashion, a failure to ban age rating, and a real threat to abortion coverage.

Gender rating refers to the practice in which insurance companies charge women more for their premiums than men for identical coverage. This applies not only to individual women policyholders, but also insured groups with a predominantly female work force.

This discriminatory practice is widespread, being banned in only 11 states. The National Women’s Law Center, as part of its campaign entitled “Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition,” describes how women constitute a special group in the actuarial tables of for-profit insurance companies.

On average, women under 55 are charged premiums up to 48 percent higher than those for men of the same age – and this is with maternity coverage excluded.

Obama’s health care reform bill would only partially remedy this. On his Web site, the president claims, “Once the [insurance] exchanges are up and running, insurance companies will be banned from setting different premiums based on gender.”

But not right away. Although insurance exchanges (which would not begin until 2014) would prohibit the sale of policies that discriminate on the basis of gender, this ban would not apply to companies with more than 100 employees. For these groups, gender rating will remain legal at least until 2017.

For-profit insurance companies regard gender rating as good business practice. Women cost these companies, on average, more than men. Women have babies, Pap smears and mammograms, and they generally visit the doctor more during youth and middle age than do men.

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Lawmakers who see health care as an individual responsibility rather than a collective right tend to share with the insurance companies this “pre-existing condition” view of women. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., infamously asked why he should be forced pay for a policy with maternity coverage when he didn’t need it.

Another serious flaw in the president’s proposal is the retention of age rating, NOW says. Middle-age and older women could be charged up to three times more than their younger counterparts for the same coverage.

Then there’s reproductive choice. Obama’s proposal would require that women write a separate premium check to their private insurer for an abortion rider on their policy. Payments would go into separate accounts.

This cumbersome segregation of funds, experts predict, would cause many insurers to restrict or drop abortion coverage, denying coverage to millions of women who have it now.

Instead of the president’s proposal, we need a single-payer health care plan. It would end the view of women as expensive liabilities who get in the way of maximizing profit. Under an improved Medicare for All, women and men would get the full range of medical services whenever they need it.

The savings from eliminating wasteful paperwork and bureaucracy – estimated at $400 billion annually – would be more than enough to cover everybody.

All women, and every man born of woman, even senators, must ultimately admit the fairness of this approach. It’s the remedy we need.

Dr. Sheila Leavitt is a retired physician in Newton, Mass., and a member of Physicians for a National Health Program ( She can be reached at

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It's finally setting in: Trump is Trump and he’s not going to change because of winning the nomination.

The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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