February, 2011

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When You Can’t Buy Health Insurance, at Any Price

Monday, February 21st, 2011

As you might already know, I’m a staunch advocate for access to health care, and cheered when health care reform became the law last year. We need the opportunity to stay well and keep our families well, and we need to be able to afford medical care when things go wrong. As a mother and a physician, I’ve seen firsthand how imperative this is.

There are those who say we should repeal the recent landmark health care reforms that Congress passed last year. But that would mean that some people would be shut out of health care completely. Some seem to believe it’s just those who are too poor to afford health insurance, or who can afford it but choose not to buy it, who go without. Those are faulty assumptions, as this op ed by the co-founder of Palm Computer, who was denied insurance before the new law passed, shows:

It never occurred to me that we would be denied! Yes, we had listed a bunch of minor ailments, but nothing serious. No cancer, no chronic diseases like asthma or diabetes, no hospital stays.

Why were we denied? What were these pre-existing conditions that put us into high-risk categories? For me, it was a corn on my toe for which my podiatrist had recommended an in-office procedure. My daughter was denied because she takes regular medication for a common teenage issue. My husband was denied because his ophthalmologist had identified a slow-growing cataract. Basically, if there is any possible procedure in your future, insurers will deny you.

If a woman with $millions couldn’t get approved because of a corn on her toe, what would happen to the average woman, or a child, with a more serious issue if health care reform were repealed?

We need to keep ourselves informed about what’s really at stake. And, trust me, there’s a great deal at stake. If health care reform is repealed, we go back to the days when life-saving care is denied to people who can’t pay the costs—oftentimes, hundreds of thousands of dollars—out-of-pocket. We go back to seeing our kids kicked off our policies when they’re just out of high school and don’t yet have jobs that offer health insurance. We go back to denials for pre-existing conditions as tiny—and ludicrous—as a corn on the toe. Or acne. Or depression. Nevermind more serious illnesses.

We can’t go back. Look at how far we’ve come. Please, be as informed as possible about your new rights under health care reform. You can find most of the information you need at this website set up by the government to guide you through your options and your rights.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Tiger Mother, Meet Yvonne Thornton, Lioness Mom (or, the Media Blitz Continues)

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Linda Villarosa, a reporter for The Root (part of the Washington Post family), an online magazine that focuses on black perspectives, recently interviewed me about Something To Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy. I’ve been interviewed by more media than I can name, at this point, and each reporter has wanted to discuss slightly different aspects of my new memoir. Ms. Villarosa was most interested in contrasting Something To Prove with another memoir that recently came out, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, a widely publicized book about an Asian mom who pushes her kids to excel.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

In her book, Chua, a Yale Law professor, discusses her struggle to raise brilliant, accomplished children — straight-A students and musical prodigies — using the lessons of her super-strict Chinese immigrant parents.

But another mom, also the author of a memoir that landed in bookstores about the same time as Chua’s, has already done it. She, too, was raised by super-strict, old-world parents, and she brought up her kids the same way. This mom, however, is black, and she prefers to be called a lioness.

“Parents don’t have high-enough expectations; they give up on their kids,” says Dr. Yvonne S. Thornton, 63, author of the new book Something to Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy. “No, I’m not a Tiger Mom; I’m a lioness. I growl when I need to growl, and set the bar high.”

The article went on to point to some of the issues I raised in Something to Prove about juggling motherhood and a career.

A few days earlier, I was again on NPR, this time chatting with Michel Martin on TELL ME MORE. We focused mostly on my father’s wisdom, which inspired me in so many ways, from my career decisions to the way I raised my own family. (And there’s not a day that goes by that Donald Thornton, AKA Daddy, doesn’t still guide my decisions). You can hear the interview and read the transcript, here.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

New Research Shows Women Doctors Still Earning Far Less Than Men

Friday, February 4th, 2011

Anyone who has read my new memoir, Something to Prove: A Daughter’s Journey to Fulfill a Father’s Legacy, knows that I encountered at least as much gender bias as racial bias in my career. Now, a new study by economics professor Anthony T. Lo Sasso, PhD, and coauthors, of the University Illinois School of Public Health in Chicago, shows that women doctors are routinely paid much less than their male counterparts. Worse, the gap between the pay offered male and female doctors has been widening, according to this article about the study from MedPage:

Among new physicians entering the work force, women earned almost $17,000 a year less than their male counterparts — almost regardless of which specialty they picked — according to an analysis of starting salaries over a 10-year period.

In fact, the analysis of starting salaries for more than 8,000 physicians found that the pay gap between men and women increased almost fivefold — from $3,600 in 1999 to $16,819 in 2008.

It’s great to have the pay gap out in the open, but I must take exception to the way the authors of the study seem to place the blame for lower pay on the shoulders of the women doctors. The authors speculate that the pay gap might be explained because women take jobs that give them more balance between lifestyle and career, or because women are poor negotiators.

I am married to a fellow physician, and I’m sure he’d agree that I’m a terrific negotiator, and I’ve always worked as hard, if not harder, than him or any male physician we know. This is true of all the working women I know: physicians, administrators, nurses, executives, salespeople – all women. Blaming women for bias against them is just another aspect of the bias.

The perpetuation of the myth that it’s a woman’s own fault if she’s paid less, or passed over for promotion in favor of a less qualified man, must end. We women have to cry foul every time we hear it.

It’s still true that women must work twice as hard as men to be thought half as good. Even now, in the 21st century.

Isn’t it time that changed?

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH.