Yesterday, I saw a Facebook photo of Kansas state lawmaker Allan Rothlisberg, R-Junction City, with the following attached quote: "If I was a woman over 50, I wouldn't need gynecological services."
I'm not sure why this quote struck such a nerve with me. I don't live in Kansas, and I'm not 50 years old. When I saw the post, I was already in a state of agitated exhaustion that merely served to percolate my irritation into a boiling righteous anger. I thought: "Wow. Has he even ever thought to ask any of the women in his life about this issue? Surely he knows one woman over 50 well enough to ask her."
I shared the post, and with it, a little heated commentary of my own. As of this writing, my post has generated 42 comments. I kicked the metaphorical hornet's nest. One friend questioned the legitimacy of the quote. According to Snopes.com, Planned Parenthood of Kansas first revealed the quote, and it stands by its tweet. Responding to the uproar over the comment, Rothlisberg said he didn't mean that women's OB/GYN services shouldn't be covered, but that they should be women's responsibility. "I did come out and say a man should not be required to pay extra premiums for a woman, for example, for OB/GYN," he later said.
Hair splitting and factchecks aside, I had an epiphany of sorts about the root of my own anger at seeing blanket statements regarding an entire demographic.
We play a dangerous game when we allow people with very limited health-science knowledge to enact health policy and determine how those policies will be funded. Who are these lawmakers consulting? Do their consultants practice evidence-based medicine? Do their consultants have solid direct-care backgrounds? Have they treated people in the last decade? Have they conducted or overseen medical research?
I ask these questions every time I read a legislator's or governor's statement regarding health-care legislation and the demographic that legislation will affect.
These health-care policies impact every person who needs care and every person who provides care. Health care costs money—absolutely no way around it. But if health care merely boils down to numbers on a spreadsheet, then why not merely issue scrubs to an army of accountants and send them down the halls of the hospitals and clinics? Oh ... right. Accountants aren't trained to perform assessments or diagnose and treat.
That's my point. Are legislators in suits qualified and competent, on their own, to make sweeping health-care laws without input from a cadre of health-care professionals in scrubs and lab coats?
Allow me to meander back to the alleged quote regarding women over 50 not needing gynecological services. If Rothlisberg was a practicing gynecologist, every woman over 50 might celebrate this news. But let's not pop the cork on the Champagne, yet. Rothlisberg is not a practicing gynecologist. He's a Kansas lawmaker. And those Debbie Downers at the Centers for Disease Control and the American Cancer Society have published some rather unnerving cancer statistics regarding women over 50. In 2010, the median age of women diagnosed with breast cancer was 61. The American Cancer Society recommends annual breast-cancer screening and mammograms for women older than 40.
The CDC also reports that approximately 90 percent of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are over 40. The highest number of cases are diagnosed in women 60 and older. In light of these facts, is it prudent to assume women over 50 don't need to see a gynecologist, a specialist trained to detect and diagnose these cancers?
Rothlisberg claims his quote was taken out of context, and he really didn't mean that people shouldn't get care. That's great. I'm relieved to know that he doesn't think people should be denied care. But that doesn't make it OK for lawmakers who approve health-policy legislation to voice sweeping generalizations about an entire demographic, and make laws based on those generalizations. It is not merely irresponsible. It is a danger to public health. When our lawmakers make decisions regarding any area in which they lack expertise, they should consider the recommendations of those who do.
The job of our legislators is to represent us. That includes vetting themselves on issues that don't directly affect them—because their decisions will affect someone. I suppose what really got me was the beginning of the alleged quote: "If I was a woman..." Yes. If. But he's not a woman. Maybe he should ask his female constituents before he spouts off about what they need and don't need—or who should pay for it.
Casey Purvis is a proud Fondrenite. She loves cooking, eating, planting things, and practicing yoga. She is a consignment-store junkie who loves decorating. She is owned by a Lhasa apso named Phoebe.