Melissa Browning, Ph.D.
Atlanta, Georgia USA

Melissa Browning is a theologian, ethicist, and activist who studies congregational and community-based responses to injustice. Melissa teaches at McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University where she is the Assistant Professor of Contextual Ministry. For the past 17 years Melissa’s study and fieldwork has been tied to East Africa. Her recent book, "Risky Marriage: HIV and Intimate Relationships in Tanzania," builds on a year of fieldwork completed in Mwanza, Tanzania where women were asked to re-imagine Christian marriage as a space of safety and health for women. Melissa is also active in death penalty abolitionist work in Georgia and is an ordained Baptist minister.

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On not getting healthcare…

By on September 1, 2011

shapeimage_2-6So, I haven’t blogged in a while, but I have a very good reason – a brand new baby girl who is now three months old. I’m discovering that I love being a parent and am grateful for the lessons it is teaching me. One particular lesson however, I think I could do without.

After my experience with childbirth and insurance companies, I’m learning first-hand that women’s health is very low on our national agenda. While pregnant, I attempted to learn everything I could about natural childbirth. I was determined to be an agent during the process of giving birth. I wanted my choices respected and honored. But soon after I arrived at the hospital in active labor, I realized that even with my birth plan on file, I would have to fight for every decision. My requests were ignored and when the labor went badly (due to a medical error) I felt like a bystander as other people made decisions about my body. I ended up having a C-section, a procedure I believe could have prevented if intervention had not led to more and more interventions.

Looking back, like many parents in my shoes, I say I’m just glad its over – glad my baby is here. But now, I’m dealing with more issues. Like the fact that I now can’t get insurance without a three-year exclusion policy on C-sections. Because I’m “self-employed” (which is a fancy way of saying I am a newly graduated Ph.D. with no real job), I don’t benefit from a group policy that could carry the burdens and disperse the benefits of group insurance coverage. Instead, the underwriter at my new insurance company took seven weeks (and way too many phone calls) to tell me I would be covered, but I couldn’t be covered for a C-section because I was a “risk.” In the process of determining my risk, the insurance company lost my application, mistakenly told me I was denied coverage, and asked me twice whether it was myself or my husband who had the C-section. Then, in their infinite wisdom, they made a financial decision that will limit my health options. A three year exclusion – I’m a risk until 2014, when the Affordable Healthcare Act finally fully kicks in and insurance companies (hopefully) will not be able to discriminate on the basis of gender or pre-existing conditions. The irony is that I have to choose between my current insurance (which doesn’t cover my expensive birth control) and this new insurance (which limits maternity care).

With these options, women like me will be forced to piece together healthcare from private and state options, and hope, in the end that we won’t go broke. Perhaps when my daughter grows up, she’ll live in a world that values maternal health and sees it as an important good, necessary for the well-being of society. But this will never happen as long as healthcare remains a for profit system. Because when healthcare is commodified, then our bodies also become commodities, losing their value in the process.