A lawmaker from North Carolina spent several minutes badgering a pregnant doctor about why Obamacare requires plans to cover maternity services, telling her it’s a service that people like him will never use, during a House committee hearing this week.
Dr. Mandy Cohen, who works for the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and is due to give birth in about three weeks, appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday to testify about Obamacare’s impact on the insurance market. The hearing was entitled “Poised To Profit: How Obamacare helps insurance companies even if it fails patients,” so it’s a safe assumption that Cohen was up before a tough crowd.
During Cohen’s testimony, Rep. Mark Meadows (R) demanded to know why Americans are forced to buy coverage for services that don’t apply to them. He pointed out that he and his wife are in their 50s and don’t plan on using maternity coverage anytime soon. The doctor attempted to explain that maternity care is one of the ten essential health benefits that Obamacare requires new plans to include, but Meadows wasn’t convinced:
MEADOWS: So you have to buy maternity, even though you may never have a child?
COHEN: That is correct.
MEADOWS: Are there other things you have to buy that you may never use?
COHEN: It depends on your personal family situation and your medical situation. I’ll say as an internist, and a primary care doc, that sometimes you don’t know what that medical situation will be going forward, and that’s the nature —
MEADOWS: But maternity is one that you can probably analyze pretty well for someone who’s in their 50s.
COHEN: Right, but it’s a minimal essential benefit we wanted to make sure that all Americans had access to.
Watch it (starting around the 9 minute mark):
Obamacare critics have latched onto maternity coverage as a prime example of how the health law will drive up insurance costs by forcing plans to include unnecessary benefits. During previous House hearings, GOP lawmakers sarcastically asked former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius if she had ever heard of a man getting pregnant.
In reality, however, the health reform law simply seeks to eliminate the gender-based cost disparities in the insurance industry. Before Obamacare was implemented, maternity care was routinely excluded in the individual market. Along with the cost of other critical health services that are gender-specific — like birth control, mammograms, and Pap smears — that old system ensured that women ended up paying much more for their health care than men.
Although maternity coverage won’t apply to every single person who signs up for Obamacare, it could apply to a lot of them. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 25 percent of all U.S. hospitalizations are a consequence of pregnancy and childbirth. Those hospital visits aren’t cheap. Out-of-pocket costs for maternity care services can reach as high as $15,000, depending on a woman’s insurance plan.
Last fall, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) responded to the critiques of maternity coverage by making a social responsibility argument for health care, comparing it to the property taxes that fund public schools. “Maybe because my wife and I do not have any more children and they are grown up, maybe I should not have to pay property taxes to pay for my local schools,” he said. “We are better than that in this country. We are talking about being part of our society. It is to our benefit, my wife and I, to support our local schools because that is our next generation, we want them well taught. Same with health care. It is a values system.”