During an interview on a radio show last Friday, Pete Olson, a Texas congressman, made a comment on prenatal and maternity coverage that has stoked widespread backlash. In his opposition to health insurance plans that cover essential benefits like prenatal and maternity care, Olson indicated that because men cannot bear children, they should not have to pay for coverage that they cannot access.
Olson, who represents the 22nd district in Texas, made these comments during an interview on the Sam Malone Show on June 23. He was discussing the Senate's proposed Obamacare replacement bill, known as the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), noting that he had several "problems" with the bill, particularly around the idea of essential health benefits.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires insurers to cover 10 essential health benefits in order to be considered ACA-compliant. The Senate's proposed bill allows states to opt out of this requirement, though this was not something Olson acknowledged during his interview. Indeed, Olson seemed to misinterpret the BCRA, saying "it still guarantee[s] coverage for 10 essential conditions."
Several women's rights organizations took Olson to task for his comments, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, who called the representative out in a series of tweets. "If women stopped having babies, the economy would quite literally crumble. Good maternity care is in everyone’s best interest," the organization's Twitter account wrote. "Women don’t get pregnant by themselves. If Texas had comprehensive sex ed, that might be more clear to you, but here’s another reminder."
Critics argued that Olson's remarks were hypocritical and antithetical to his strong pro-life stance, as well as shedding men's responsibility in pregnancy. Others also decried Olson for seemingly not understanding "the essence of how insurance markets work." Insurance markets are designed so that people pool their money to cover services others may need (i.e. like men paying for maternity care) in exchange for the guarantee that one's own services will also be covered should the need arise.
For example, people pay for plans that include pediatric coverage, another essential health benefit, even if they do not have children. Women pay for plans that cover preventative prostate screenings for men. And healthy people pay for plans that include coverage for cancer treatment. Olson's comments seem to reflect a lack of comprehension of how the collective nature of health insurance works.
Olson's comments aren't the first time a Republican Congressman has suggested that men should not pay for prenatal or maternity care. In March, Republican Congressman John Shimkus of Illinois remarked that he also took issue with the prenatal care essential health benefit, questioning whether men should have to purchase plans that cover prenatal care. At the time, Democratic Rep. Michael Doyle notably responded to Shimkus' comments by saying, "There's no such thing as a la carte insurance, John." Shimkus' comments received quite a bit of attention — and a good amount of criticism — from the media.
As the debate surrounding health care rages on, Olson's remarks reflect what seems to be a continuing sentiment among some male Republican leaders — that men should not have to pay for insurance coverage that they cannot directly benefit from.