Apr 262010

Fair warning, this post should probably be sub-titled “Women’s Health Care, How Much More Seriously Effed Up Can It Possibly Get”

You would be in good company for instance if you thought Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) was no longer routinely considered an option for women going through menopause after we found out that when we quit taking it, breast cancer rates immediately fell–think again–Martha Rosenberg vivisects the New York Times for revisiting it as a medically acceptable option here.

And funny story, seems that never mind that we just spent how many months passing a watered down health care bill that was supposed to solve all our ills–getting and keeping health insurance while female is still some sort of Kafka-like joke.

WellPoint CEO Angela Braly got a 51% raise last year and now has a compensaton package that totals more than $13 million according to the LA Times.

Got breast cancer, kiss your health insurance goodbye.  Via Reuters:

One after another, shortly after a diagnosis of breast cancer, each of the women learned that her health insurance had been canceled…
…None of the women knew about the others. But besides their similar narratives, they had something else in common: Their health insurance carriers were subsidiaries of WellPoint, which has 33.7 million policyholders — more than any other health insurance company in the United States.

The women all paid their premiums on time. Before they fell ill, none had any problems with their insurance. Initially, they believed their policies had been canceled by mistake.

They had no idea that WellPoint was using a computer algorithm that automatically targeted them and every other policyholder recently diagnosed with breast cancer. The software triggered an immediate fraud investigation, as the company searched for some pretext to drop their policies, according to government regulators and investigators.

Once the women were singled out, they say, the insurer then canceled their policies based on either erroneous or flimsy information.

Read the whole story, it gets much, much worse.  I particularly found this quote illuminating:

“It’s not like these companies don’t like women because they are women,” says Jeff Isaacs, the chief assistant Los Angeles City Attorney who runs the office’s 300-lawyer criminal division. “But there are two things that really scare them and they are breast cancer and pregnancy. Breast cancer can really be a costly thing for them. Pregnancy is right up there too. Their worst-case scenario is that a child will be born with some disability and they will have to pay for that child’s treatment over the course of a lifetime.”

No really, that is pretty much the same as hating women, at least until men start giving birth.  Pissed off (and if you aren’t, what the hell is wrong with you)?  Tell WellPoint what you think here.

(H/t to RH Reality Check for pointing to this story.)

Before we leave the subject of breast cancer profiteering, our friends at Breast Cancer Action are none too happy at Kentucky Fried Chicken’s form letter response to their protest of the KFC Buckets for the Cure pink-washing campaign. The response from KFC read in part,

“You should know that our partnership with KFC is designed to help reach millions of women we might not otherwise reach with breast health education and awareness messages which we consider critical to our mission. This additional outreach is made possible through KFC’s 5,300 restaurants (about 900 of them in communities not yet served by a Komen Affiliate).”

Breast Cancer Action’s awesome reply addresses the huge inequities in health and health care that exist because of poverty in this country, saying that KFC has:

targeted underserved communities whose residents often struggle to stretch their food dollars and are dependent on cheap meals. If you want to serve underserved communities, work with the community health clinics, economic development corporations, and community coalitions that are working to reverse the damage KFC and others have done.

KFC and other fast food restaurants are disproportionately located in low-income communities (especially those of color) for very specific reasons.

Low-income neighborhoods are underserved by grocery stores with healthier options, and therefore are “prime real estate” for fast food restaurants that provide inexpensive, already prepared options.  Faced with a lack of options, these already vulnerable communities are prey to large companies like KFC that offer the least amount of nutrition for the most profit.

In response to KFC’s claim that the campaign focuses on healthy diet choices such as grilled, not fried chicken, Breast Cancer Action declares bullshit:

By placing the responsibility for our crisis in diet on the consumer, they reveal a disturbing lack of insight and understanding related to social inequities in this country. This is shameful.
In addition, the claim that the partnership focuses on healthy options is outrageous. A menu with one or two salads does not a “focus” make! And it is equally outrageous that they claim to be educating people to make healthy food choices by encouraging them to eat at a fried chicken franchise.

KFC is currently embroiled in a suit related to their chicken’s high levels of PhIP, a byproduct of the grilling process listed on the state of California’s list of carcinogens.  While there is much that isn’t known about PhIP- Komen’s representative acknowledged that the NCI has not established safe or unsafe levels for its consumption- it seems both ridiculous and unethical to frame the breast cancer epidemic as something “curable” through repeated consumption of these ingredients. And in terms of prevention, we cannot imagine feeding people carcinogenic grilled chicken that raises the risk of heart disease and breast cancer and then expect them not to become sick.

Returning now to health care reform and the small issue of whether or not you can get affordable health care insurance in the first place, remember gender ratings–weren’t they supposed to be a thing of the past once we passed health care reform?  Maybe….eventually…

In the meantime, not to worry, Sue Lowden, a would-be challenger against Sen. Harry Reid in Nevada suggests that you can always barter for health care with chickens:

(Note:  For a hilarious response to Lowden that tells you how many chickens it will cost for your particular ailment, click here.)

And finally– just for the guys–want to get with the flow when it comes to your lady friend’s menstrual period–there’s an app for that, several of them actually, marketed specifically to menJodi Jacobson points out why, after 5 seconds of eye-rolling laughter there are a few ever so problematic aspects to this cutesy idea:

But that it is so popular is a reminder of our cultural schizophrenia around sex, power, and gender. On one hand, despite record numbers of sexually transmitted infections and despite still-too-high levels of teenage pregnancy, we can’t get the federal government to stop spending money on failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Networks and cable stations will sell sex 24-7, but many still refuse to air responsible ads for contraceptive methods or such controversial things as condoms, or information about sexually transmitted infections…

…And it is worth noting the the current wave of laws at the state and federal level and the general level of hysteria around women’s rights to choose pregnancy and childbirth in the United States has a lot to do with control over their bodies…

…It is also worth watching how well this app does elsewhere in the world.  I am not kidding.  Yesterday, for example, a story on Apple’s first-quarter profits indicated that sales of the iPhone and iPad are booming in places like China, India, Pakistan and elsewhere.  These are cultures in which women’s periods are indeed more openly the source of control (here, we like to pretend we are protecting “life,” not controlling women’s lives.

Taken by themselves, every one of these stories is deeply troubling and messed up. While the profit opportunities (even with health care reform) abound, the reality is that our commodified health care system is damaging and too often deadly, especially for women.  Despite all the health care debate ruckus of the last year, we have accomplished very little.  Much, much more remains to be done, and the only starting point from which that can be accomplished is one that sees the health care of all as a human right, not a commodity that can be bought and sold.  And as of yet, there is no app for that.

 April 26, 2010  Posted by on April 26, 2010

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