Just Being Alive Will Soon be a Pre-existing Condition

Domestic violence isn’t a subject I talk about much, but it’s something I feel very strongly about because I have a very personal connection to the topic.

I was a victim of domestic abuse.

Many, many years ago I was married for a very short time when I was an incredibly young (19) and stupid college student (while 19 might be a good age for some to marry, it was not a good age for me).

I was smart enough, however, to get out of that very brief marriage quickly before I suffered too many injuries.  But it was scary — I had bruises from being pushed down stairs and I was anxious about lying to cover up why there was a big hole in the wall (where my ex-husband kicked it in in a rage), among other things.  When he pulled a butcher knife on me when I said I was leaving, I really knew it was the right choice to save my life.  But I was terrified that he would come after me and hurt me more.  He tried, but I was lucky that I had friends who sheltered me and kept me safe, even when I had to go to work.

I recovered from the few physical injuries I suffered without any medical attention.  But a lot of women aren’t so lucky.  So when I read a report this week from the SEIU that a variety of states allow insurance companies to refuse to pay for treatment of injuries suffered as a result of domestic violence because they are deemed a pre-exisiting condition, I pretty much lost it.  Some states make it illegal for an insurance company to do that, but there are still eight states and the District of  Columbia that permit insurance companies who cover individuals there to carve that out as something not deemed worthy of coverage.

I knew decades ago, as many women still know today, that you can get all the protective orders you want, but depending on where you live police are slow to enforce them or take them seriously.  So if a woman (or, I’m assuming, even a child) who suffers a black eye or a broken arm or worse because it’s not the first instance of domestic abuse, certain insurance companies won’t pay for it?

If that fact alone isn’t a call to action, I don’t know what is.  The President has said he wants health care reform and he’s claimed he wants to put issues that impact women and girls in the forefront.  When she spoke at Netroots Nation, Presidential advisor Valerie Jarrett, who chairs the White House Council on Women & Girls, answered my Twitter question about whether the goals of the Council were still a priority, assuring us that Barack Obama would keep pushing for those goals and that the Council’s work was on the front-burner.

Two of the Council’s stated goals are:

  • Working hand-in-hand with the Vice President, the Justice Department’s Office of Violence Against Women and other government officials [will] find new ways to prevent violence against women, at home and abroad.
  • Finally, the critical work of the Council will be to help build healthy families and improve women’s health care.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think either of those things can be accomplished if you’ve got insurance companies trying to eke out bigger profits on the backs of abused women.

So many people who are against health care reform want to keep the current system, claiming that a public option will result in rationing.  But if denying a beaten woman coverage doesn’t amount to rationing, what is it?  Some insurers have made the calculated financial (NOT medical) decision that if you are a woman who can’t get out of an abusive relationship, you don’t deserve medical treatment if your husband beats you.

Before I experienced it, I thought there was no excuse for not getting out — how could anyone stay?  But it’s a complicated issue, many times made harder by threats against other people, including children.  Or you think it’s only going to happen once — it was an accident, it was something that will never happen again.

And then it does.

I am one of the most fortunate women in the world — I got out before things got too bad.  I scraped together enough money on my then-$120 a week salary to pay for a divorce and got out.  I found a job in another state, but I looked over my shoulder for years, never wanting to let down my guard just in case he found out where I was.

Many years later, I met Mr. PunditMom who is the best of all possible husbands (even though I do complain sometimes that he doesn’t do his share of the laundry).  But I shudder to think about what might have happened if my ex-husband had been able to get to me, notwithstanding all my best efforts to prevent him from hitting me again — or worse.  And if he had, how would I have paid for my medical care if my insurance company had turned its back?

If domestic violence is a pre-existing condition, what’s next?  If I get a sinus infection this winter that the first round of antibiotics doesn’t clear up, is the next prescription not covered?   If it’s OK for some insurance companies to promote and cover prescriptions or other treatments so men can “perform” when the moment is right, why isn’t there a governmental push right now to make sure abused women can get medical treatment?

I wish I could believe there was some answer other than money.  But I don’t think there is.

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18 Responses to “Just Being Alive Will Soon be a Pre-existing Condition”

  1. magpie Says:

    Beyond comprehension. How on earth can they justify that?

  2. Positively Present Says:

    Fantastic article…and the title is just brilliant!

  3. Angela Says:

    I am so sick of the soullessness of insurance companies. Anyone who thinks health care isn’t ‘rationed’ NOW by ‘death panels’ is living in a fantasy world.

    Come on REFORM! We can’t wait much longer.

  4. Men are Battered Too Says:

    Denying coverage for existing conditions is awful, but let’s not forget that MEN suffer from domestic violence as well. According to the National Violence Against Women survey, (http://www.batteredmen.com/nvawsurv.pdf) 834,732 men are victims of physical violence by an intimate each year, compared to 1.5 million women. Let’s not forget those men, men who could be our sons.

  5. Jody Reale Says:

    Yes, it’s true. People who are living are more likely to get sick…and even die. The system: Messed up.

  6. Amy Says:

    This is a very timely article, because I just began to suspect (over the weekend) that my neighbor is being physically abused by her husband, and I don’t know what to do.

    Would you be willing to help me figure it out? prbabies@gmail.com

    Thanks, in advance.

  7. PunditMom Says:

    Thanks, Men are Battered Too, for reminding us all about that.

  8. annie Says:

    I am at a loss to explain why health insurance companies and their sleazy practices are still be considered something worthy of protecting from a public option.

    I know I say this a lot, but I am not surprised by this revelation. Nothing that happens in the name of profit and shareholders comes as much of a shock anymore. What does surprise me a little are the people protesting on behalf of systems that would destroy them and their families for a buck or two more in their own pockets. But I guess it’s not unheard of for people to defend and protect their abusers, is it?

  9. Daisy Says:

    I am shocked, but not surprised. The local domestic abuse shelter is within walking distance of my school; we have extra security because we teach kids who may be at risk from abusive parents just as their moms (or dads) are at risk from the spouse, significant other, or ex. Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, that insurance would consider getting beaten up on a regular basis to be a non-insurable “condition.”

  10. Fantastic Forrest Says:

    Great post. Thanks for shining a light on this issue. I’ve been asked to pull together a mini-course – five two-hour sessions – about health care reform. The class is for 55 and older folks, held at our local college. I’d love hearing from you about any other subtopics you think are noteworthy. I wish you lived in the Northwest – I’d try to persuade you to come speak! :)

    If any of you commenters have ideas, please send them my way as well! You can email me at halfirishrover at yahoo dot com.


  11. injaynesworld Says:

    Because domestic violence is so often thought of as just a woman’s issue, it is dismissed as so many other issues affecting women are. We are still a patriarchal society that fears women and seeks to suppress us in every possible way. Why do insurance companies cover Viagra, but not birth control? If men could get pregnant you can bet they’d cover it. If more men who are battered would speak out, we might be able to start an intelligent dialogue on the problem, but they don’t and we all know why. Thank you for sharing your story. I certainly hope we can raise the awareness on the subject enough to get women angry, involved and marching in the streets.

  12. jodifur Says:

    I’m just so glad you wrote this. I was a victim of dating violence and when I read these headlines, I was floored.

  13. KAT12sb Says:

    What’s next is a slew of other “pre-existing conditions” insurance companies can also use (and do) to deny coverage to women — being pregnant or having a c-section for example. Insurance companies can cite pregnancy as grounds to deny a woman coverage based on her “pre-existing condition.” (http://www.seiu.org/2009/09/insurance-companies-consider-c-section-birth-pre-existing-condition.php) Same goes for Cesarean section pregnancies being categorized as “pre-existing conditions.” So for all those anti-reformers who say that they don’t want rationed healthcare if Obama’s healthcare plan is enacted…wake up and smell the coffee, haters! Healthcare in this country is ALREADY rationed. Insurance industries aren’t going to stop their corruption & blatant denial of coverage on their own—we need reform now.

  14. Momish Says:

    When I was a social worker, I worked a few abused women and it broke my heart. I am sorry to hear you had to suffer through that in the past, but am so happy to hear it is the past. Insurance companies make me sick when they pull crap like this. An outrage! However, the term “pre-existing condition” technically translates to a condition that existed before it existed. I honestly cannot think of anything, yet alone a condition, that existed before it existed. I think there might be a basis for a lawsuit in that!

  15. Carissa Daniels Says:

    I am an online domestic violence advocate, working online with victims all over the world. I also am a domestic violence survivor, both as a childhood victim and as an adult. The fact that insurance companies can even consider calling surviving domestic violence a “preexisting condition” does not surprise me. (Very little does…I have seen and heard it all)
    The bottom line seems to be that the insurance companies have everything going their way, and they want to keep it that way regardless of how many lives are ruined financially or how many victims die. No problem as long as it doesn’t impact their profits?! Previous posts are right. Healthcare is rationed now, and people like me and the victims I work with lose because we unknowingly got with an abusive partner. They want victims to leave, and yet when they do, what happens? One more penalty for telling the truth, and one more roadblock stopping victims from getting and staying safe.

  16. Dana Says:

    Joanne, I’m so glad you got out. I feel awful for the women who aren’t so lucky.

    When I was 12, I babysat for a relative while she and her husband attended a wedding. When they returned home, they were arguing and the husband struck his wife so hard she fell into a glass table and had cuts all over her arms, stomach and legs.

    I was terrified. Even half-frozen in fear, I made my way to another room and called my father to come get me; there was no way this man was driving me home.

    When my dad arrived he tried to reason with the husband but he became forceful and my dad had to defend himself, as well as our relative, myself and their kids.

    It’s something I’ve never forgotten, and I know my relative needed several stitches for one of the deeper gashes. I can’t imagine what she would have done without insurance coverage.

  17. Katherine Says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. It shouldn’t be necessary, but it is a more powerful argument because of your personal experience.


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