Local matriarchs bring public policy to forefront

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It was the day after the first presidential debate and Marcy Morrison, former Manitou Springs mayor and state insurance commissioner, was watching the TV-talking heads dissect the evening.

She had her own thoughts. “What specifically came up about women?” she asked.

Neither presidential candidate was asked or talked about how public policies impact women.

“I was totally baffled,” she said. “We are 50 percent of the population.”

Women need to hear how public policy affects them, she says. Morrison asserts that it’s not just vital for individual women to find out more. She feels it’s vital to the community’s future.

A few weeks earlier, Morrison was having coffee with other local matriarchs: Jan Martin, city councilor; Laura Muir, Momentum Advertising public relations; Susan Davies, Trails and Open Space Coalition executive director; Mary Lou Makepeace, former Colorado Springs mayor; Mary Ellen McNally, former city councilor; Heidi Danzig Miller, owner at Danzig Miller Meeting and Event Services; and Heather Bushby Kelly, owner of Altru Systems and social entrepreneur.

The group felt women needed to explore and discuss important issues, starting with the Affordable Care Act. Besides their own health care needs, women often make health care decisions for their families, they said. The group felt strongly that the health care discussion needed to move past the sound bites, political ads and partisan sentiment.

“The light bulb went on. This is it,” Morrison said. “Women are not getting enough good information.”

They decided to initiate that conversation. Calling themselves Pikes Peak Women, they assembled a panel of experts — Pam McManus, Peak Vista Community Health Centers president and CEO; CJ Moore, Kaiser Permanente public affairs director; Margaret Sabin, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services president and CEO; and Marguerite Salazar, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services regional director — to host a forum, “Women’s Issues 2012: The Affordable Care Act and You.”

Nearly 100 women, and a few men, came after work on a Monday night for 2½ hours to hear the nitty-gritty details. Proof, Morrison says, that women are starved for information on public policy and how it affects them and their families.

There is just no outlet for frank talk about how public policy affects women — it’s a void, a vast silence, McNally says.

“I don’t know of any other opportunity to hear about the Affordable (Health) Care Act,” she said as she greeted women to the Oct. 1 forum.

Most local groups shy from political subjects, Martin said, and the legislation seems daunting and complicated. But following the June U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act, it’s here now, she said.

“We want to focus on political issues that affect women,” Martin said. “We want to help educate women so they are more informed voters.”

Women were especially impacted in the ACA, Moore said. Today, a 22-year-old woman is likely to pay 150 percent of the cost of a similar premium for a 22-year -old man. Beginning in 2014 that cannot happen.

“It’s about time we quit getting punished for being women,” Moore said.

Other ACA highlights: In 2014, it will be illegal for insurance companies to discriminate against anyone with a pre-existing condition. (Some companies had considered previous pregnancy a pre-existing condition and denied coverage.) Women can receive preventive care like mammograms, new baby care and well-child visits, family planning, cancer screening, flu shots, gestational diabetes screening, domestic violence counseling. And children with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied.

“It doesn’t matter what side of the political spectrum you are on,” Moore said. “This is our health.”

Health care isn’t the only issue. Pikes Peak Women expect to host more forums, and issues may include women’s safety, challenges with career and family, or politicians’ actions for or against women’s rights.

Morrison says it’s a must. When women become informed, they are more likely to step up and get involved in the community, even seeking public office.

“Women like you have to know there are women like me who have climbed the ladder,” Morrison said. “And, we need to touch more women — women who are coming up, who are young and have professional growth to go through. We need to be there to say, ‘Here are women in our community.’”

She’s looking forward to a presidential debate when candidates speak directly to women. Maybe soon, presidential candidates will be women; and perhaps they will have attended a community forum to learn how a massive piece of public policy affected them.

“Why are these meetings so important?” Morrison said. “I’m hoping someday, we will begin to see more activity, ‘Hey, I can help create a better community, work on public policy; I understand our community, our families. I can do something.’”