On health care, women and caregiving

A Womens eNews article via AlterNet asks whether the Clinton, Obama or Edwards health plan is best for women. Before reading the story, I have to say that I was excited. I was hoping for a detailed breakdown of the three plans from a women’s issues perspective with some kind of grading system telling voters which proposals they should support and why.

Well, the article is actually about how they all suck and Dennis Kucinich’s plan is the only acceptable option. That was the first let down. I’m willing to admit that in a better world, the Kucinich plan for true universal health care would be the plan that I would support. But I also honestly believe that there is not enough political will in America for such a plan, nor will there be for at least 10, maybe even 20, years. The insurance companies still have too much sway, the rich are still too powerful, the middle-class still has delusions that one day they will be rich, and the Republicans are still successfully scaring the crap out of people over having their taxes raised. And I would greatly prefer a decent health care plan instead of none in the vain pursuit of a great one. That’s just me, and feel free to disagree.

But while the main crux of the article was disappointing, this part both confused me and pissed me off:

The three private insurer-based plans are also identically stingy toward caretakers.

Some plans — Hillary’s and Edwards’ — would cover respite care to help caregivers. Edwards offers up flextime, longer leave periods and paid leaves to help “parents” balance work and family.

Although well intentioned these policies reinforce the social expectation that women will be able to meet the daily needs of those who cannot help themselves.

If, for example, federal legislation required employers to grant flextime to help care for the elderly, our social expectations of women would mean that any one of them who didn’t use this option — who didn’t toss aside her paying job to assume this role — would be subject to criticism.

And the news media wouldn’t shy from broadcasting every report — however marginal or questionable its methodology — that showed how much better it is for the elderly to be in the care of a daughter than a professional attendant.

Okay . . . so what, exactly, do you suggest?

Well, Feiner suggests no alternative to this particular problem in the article, so if someone else can, I’d love to hear it. Personally, I think that this is a matter of facts. Many people are caregivers for ill or elderly family members. Caregiving is hard work. Working while caregiving can be very difficult. Sometimes, caregivers need a break, but they can’t afford to take the time off, or taking time off would result in a possible loss of their job. These plans would help to solve those problems and ease the burden for those individuals.

So what the hell is the problem? Feiner seems to take issue with the fact that caregivers are overwhelmingly women. I think that this is unfair, too, but also think that it creates even more reason to support such a plan. If women are primarily the ones getting screwed, let’s do what we can through legal means to un-screw them.

The proposal is gender neutral. If more pressure is placed on women to quit their jobs and become caregivers, that’s not the fault of the proposal, it’s the fault of our shitty society. Health care proposals are designed to fix health care, not to fix the world’s overabundance of sexist assholes. If mandatory paid parental leave was ever actually established, women who would otherwise rather go back to work quickly might face social pressure to stay home longer, and would face far more pressure than men would. And I think that we all know that. But we still support it because we know that the benefits of paid parental leave greatly outweigh the social drawbacks. The ridiculously media-hyped “mommy wars” don’t prevent us from supporting the right for all women to make a choice about how they parent. The fact that working women are criticized doesn’t stop us from supporting policies that would help women stay at home and vice versa.

If extra pressure is exerted on women to be caregivers when they would prefer to not be, we’ll tackle that. We can promote the benefits specifically to men, and make sure to keep sexist language out of the law and all explanations of the law. It sure as hell won’t be perfect, but I think that most people who act as caregivers can say that it would be a big improvement.

The idea that we need to fix sexism before implementing commonsense health care policy, to me, seems absurd. Though Feiner has located a genuine kink in the plan, she seems to prefer throwing out otherwise good policy to actually suggesting a solution. It is also highly worth noting that the Edwards plan doesn’t only provide for caregiving, it also provides for medical homes for those with chronic illnesses and drastic nursing home improvements, while still promoting independent living, which is a very good thing for the disabled. We want independent living to be the goal for most people.

So am I missing something here? What are your thoughts, both on the health care plans and on benefits for caregivers?

0 thoughts on “On health care, women and caregiving

  1. Jay

    You’re right on. I haven’t looked at the specifics of any of the plans and don’t know which one I prefer, but providing support for caregivers is a good thing no matter what.

    More women than men end up as caregivers for a lot of reasons. Sure, social expectations play a role, but so does the income gap: if someone has to quit work to care for an aging parent, it makes sense for the lower-paid person to quit, and the lower-paid person is often the woman in a heterosexual relationship. (And of course one of the justifications for the income gap is that women take more time off…welcome to the patriarchal sit-spin.) In addition, women live longer than men and men are more likely to have disabling strokes and heart attacks, although not necessarily more likely to become demented.

    A long-winded way of saying you’re right. If we say we have to fix patriarchal expectations before we have better health-care policy in the US, we’ll wait a looong time.

  2. soupcann314

    Also – what’s with Feiner referring to Hillay Rodham Clinton as “Hillary” in the quote above and referring to John Edwards as “Edwards.” Not cool.

  3. Cara Post author

    Yeah, actually, I noticed that too and was not too impressed. But obviously I still had enough ground to cover without that.

  4. kate.d.

    you find the lack of HRC being referred to as “clinton” almost everywhere – i’ve practically stopped noticing. which is kinda sad. if i remember correctly, she’s responded to the question of how she feels about it by pretty much saying, “well, my husband kinda snuck in there and took the clinton handle, and people get confused, plus so many have known and referred to me as hillary for years already that i don’t have a big problem with it.”

  5. misscripchick

    i think a big issue is that we need reform in the way medicaid/medicare does things… (well who isn’t saying this?). but for example, the disability community has been lobbying for the Community Choice Act (formerly known as MiCASSA)that would allow people to have access to home-based services thus A.) taking the dependence off of unpaid caregivers and B.) keeping people out of nursing homes/institutions. right now in a lot of states, if you need care, you have no options except to have family “take care” of you or be institutionalized…

    if we could change this, so much money would be saved.

    makes sense what you said in the beginning about holding out for the perfect system and not doing anything in the meantime..

  6. Carol D. O'Dell

    Sad to say, I’m not so sure we will make true strides in this election in regard to health care. I can’t help but wonder, as time goes on, and males become primary caregivers (right now, it’s 44% males) due to the fact that families are smaller– and as women become the primary/highest paid family member–when that happens, will health care issues suddenly become a “crisis” when it hits the male segment of our population in full force?

    It’s inevitable, given ten years or so. I already know of lots of only sons, or two son families–and they are oftentimes, wonderful caregivers. (My brother-in-law was to his father, mother, and then sadly, his brother–and he did so with strength and tenderness).

    In the meantime…I certainly don’t see the health care systems we have in place in any hurry to change the system until forced.

    By the way, I was the “daughter/sandwich generation” caregiver who quit her job to care fo her mother. I don’t regreat it. Since her passing, I feel I’ve had a rebirth that only caregiving and wiping the slate clean can offer.

    I’ll be on CNN.com October 11th at 9:30a.m. talking about this very issue. I hope you’ll log on.

    ~Carol D. O’Dell
    author of MOTHERING MOTHER
    available on Amazon and in most bookstores


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