‘Deficit gurus’ launch assault on women’s health

By Claudia Chaufan –

March is Women’s History Month. But this year, for the vast majority of women in America, there is little to celebrate.

Over the past months, “deficit gurus” in the U.S. House of Representatives have unleashed the most devastating assault on women’s health in our nation’s history. If legislation already passed in the House is approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Obama, women’s rights and health will be set back by decades.

Many critical programs are on the chopping block, such as the Public Health Service Act or Title X, providing basic health services, including Pap smears, family planning services, and cancer screenings to more than 5 million low-income people, mainly women.

Slashing Title X will lead to thousands of unnecessary deaths. Maternal and Child Health Block Grants, chiefly benefitting poor women and children, will be cut by $210 million. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will be reduced by some $755 million, undermining many public health efforts such as confronting HIV/AIDS. Community health centers providing essential services to millions of women and families across the country will face a brutal $1.3 billion cut.

This onslaught against women joins that against U.S. working people. Look, for example, at the assault on Medicaid, or the drive to cut wages, benefits and collective bargaining rights. Wisconsin is only the most flagrant example of a nationwide phenomenon.

Or consider the chorus that, both from the right and from sectors of the “liberal” left, is calling for “saving” Social Security by reducing benefits, increasing eligibility age or privatizing the program. Yet Social Security is financially sound for at least another 27 years. Whatever problems it may have could be easily fixed by simply raising the cap on the taxable income of the very wealthy. And Medicare and other publicly financed health care programs, favorite targets of the budget cutters, pose a problem only because the U.S. health care system, pre- and post- the federal health law, is built upon a rotten foundation: for-profit health insurance.

Despite subtle differences, both sides of the political aisle convey the same message: “We” must pay for “our excesses” that caused “the deficit” by giving up on our “generous benefits.”

Notably, Wall Street excesses figure nowhere in these arguments, even if its benefits are clear. As President Obama noted candidly in his State of the Union address, “the stock market has come roaring back and corporate profits are up.”

Meanwhile, our “benefits” don’t even include guaranteed access to basic health care, as is the norm in every other wealthy nation. The new federal law has “reformed” the system essentially by mandating us to purchase for-profit insurance increasingly under-insurance under penalty of a fine, and expanding coverage, not necessarily care, through an underfunded Medicaid program. Finally, it leaves at least 23 million people uninsured annually a decade from now.

If this scenario is allowed to stand, women will suffer disproportionately. But in the spirit of International Women’s Day, women’s groups and others are fighting back, and championing the most just and cost-effective solution to our health care woes — single-payer national health insurance, an improved Medicare for All.

As we commemorate those 15,000 brave women who back in 1908 marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights, American women and working Americans generally must demand no less.

Claudia Chaufan is an assistant professor at the Institute for Health and Aging at UC San Francisco. She is also vice president of Physicians for a National Health Program — California.