I've heard it a thousand times: Sexism no longer exists in this country.
As a college instructor, I heard it. Talking with other moms at playgroup, I've heard it. At conferences and in meetings and on television and during radio talk shows, I've heard it. It pains me to type the words. Still, I know that many of you will gasp or laugh to read that there are people who believe women no longer face discrimination. I also know that many of you will nod your head in agreement.
One of the reasons I believe many people think that sexism is obsolete is because they do not recognize or feel its impact in their personal lives. The thing about oppression of any kind, however, is that it doesn't just infiltrate our homes and relationships. It also is at work in the systems set in place in our society -- in government, in the workplace, in media, in education.
While someone might have a equitable relationship with a partner or have grown up with a dad who participates just as much as their mother, they may not sexism's existence as much as a woman who grew up with very different expectations than her male siblings. Sadly, statistics reveal that sexism is very much alive systematically -- looking at the percentage of women in the sciences and how much less women earn for doing comparable work to men are just two examples that discrimination is still breeding.
At a time when health care is being carefully scrutinized and hotly debated, it is no surprise that peeling back the layers of insurance coverage, accessibility, and affordability reveals many accounts of sexism in action.
In calling on readers to provide anecdotes and information about their experiences with insurance companies, the Huffington Post Investigative Fund is hoping to add more data to the current health care debate. Because health insurance companies are not required to publicly divulge how many claims are denied and why, the Investigative Fund is compiling stories that may have otherwise been unheard.
Even if you have not seen evidence of sexism in your home or even in your job, I think you will be as startled and angered by the stories about sexual assault victims who have been denied insurance coverage for simply getting treatment following their attack.
Perhaps the most maddening is the story of Christina Turner, a 45-year-old woman who was allegedly drugged. sexually assaulted while she was unconscious, and left roadside by two men. As a preventative measure, her doctor prescribed a month's worth of anti-AIDS medication. Months later, when the rape survivor lost her insurance and applied for a new plan, her medical records were reviewed and she was denied coverage because she'd taken HIV medication. Although Turner did not develop HIV and explained the attack to the insurance company, she was told to reapply in three years if she remained free from the virus.
Turner, who ironically worked in the insurance field, went without insurance for three years and says she knows she will be penalized for the rest of her life for taking those precautionary drugs.
The anecdotes go on and on and span the treatments many consider imperative for people who have been sexually assaulted to be safe, healthy, and even to report the crime. Reports of being denied coverage for rape kit exams, follow-up gynecological exams, and counseling show a maddening discrimination against people (and sexual assaults are overwhelmingly committed against women) who have been raped.
The Investigative Fund reports that insurers have cited post-traumatic stress disorder, previous assaults, and questionable medical necessity for denying coverage to women (read more anecdotes and reactions here). This is problematic on several levels. First, the intense questioning of sexual assault survivors (which you might assume to be reserved for police reports or legal proceedings) and billing for rape kit exams (which is standard procedure when a someone who is assaulted goes to an ER or doctor's office following an assault), re-victimizes the victim.
"For someone who has been traumatized, it can feel like another trauma, and it makes the therapy less effective," said New Jersey psychologist Jeffrey Axelbank.
That a woman who has been assaulted would want or even need counseling is not unfounded. Women who have been sexually assaulted are three times more likely to suffer from depression. And that a victim would be told her coverage has been denied because she has post-traumatic stress disorder is all the more ridiculous considering that women who have been assaulted are six times more likely to suffer from PTSD.
The second issue with this treatment is that is discourages people who have been assaulted from taking precautionary medications, getting STD and other testing, and even from reporting the crime to the authorities. The number of people who have been sexually assaulted who report it to the police is up 30% since 1993, and still is strikingly low -- only 40% make official reports.
Third, we already know that women aged 19 to 55 pay more for health insurance than men the same age. Since women in their early 20s are the group at highest risk for being sexually assaulted, denying coverage at this time of life seems to literally and figuratively add insult to injury. I can only imagine how infuriating it must be to pay more for a plan that does not cover your treatment in the most critical hour.
These procedures and treatments are not controversial or experimental or frivolous. Making sure a woman doesn't have HIV or any other STD as a result of an attack, collecting evidence, and providing therapy seem like common-sense provisions for care. Although insurance providers might claim cost is an issue, immediate and preventative care seems like it would be a lot less expensive than covering long-term or chronic issues that result from lack of care.
Still, you may not have witnessed or worried about the brand of sexism that these assault victims have felt from their health insurance companies. But since 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime (and 1 in 33 men), the chances are high that you or a woman you know has already been personally impacted. In the time it has taken you to read this post, two women -- that we know about -- have been assaulted.
And if she -- or you -- have assumed your health benefits will cover sessions with a therapist or that you won't be denied for opting for potentially life-saving medication, you might see how this particular system could harshly, horrifically discriminate against you.
As hard as it is to hear, I think we all need to speak up and hear more anecdotes about how insurance companies have denied or are denying coverage to women who have been sexually assaulted. If we get loud enough, perhaps the sound of "DENIED" sliding through a printer on a claim will be drowned out, or even halted.
Are health insurance companies discriminating against women? Is this fair play or are insurers pushing women out of plans?
What are your thoughts about health insurance companies denying coverage to women who have been sexually assaulted?
- Did you know women pay more for health insurance?
- Can you live without health insurance?
- Senator Al Franken's anti-rape lawsuit amendment: Nay to what exactly?
- Safety tips for college women
- Is an anti-rape condom a good idea?
[photo credit: Getty Images]