My eldest son has moved from having a job into the world of having a career. At some point, we asked him about his benefits package, as he is fast approaching an age when he will need to provide his own insurance plan. He assured us that he has medical insurance with all the bells and whistles he anticipates needing, including a health-club incentive that he can use to cover his ongoing membership in a martial arts school. He also reported that he can get pet insurance, though he did not see the purpose of it.
Pet insurance was a topic for a lot of jovial commentary. We have an elderly, blind rabbit, so I jokingly suggested he take out coverage against her inevitable demise. I admit that I may have aged myself with frequent exclamations of “Pet insurance! Of all the ridiculous ideas!” during that brief conversation. I grew up in a world of farm dogs, and when one “crossed the rainbow bridge” as people now say, another would wander into our lives. Easy come, easy go. (We loved them, of course, but they were pets, not people.)
To be sure, from a twenty-first-century corporate perspective, pet insurance is not exactly a ridiculous idea. Pets are serious commodities these days, protected and loved, often receiving more care than we give to humans. Complex pet care is big business, and a corporate world that wants to attract young and talented workers must be quick to demonstrate that it embraces every aspect of their lives. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that pet insurance is on offer.
Ironically, I have thought more about pet insurance since the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. Specifically, I wonder what has kept corporate America from providing wholistic and generous benefits to those who have children, rather than pets. It would be a small thing, for example, to include an option in a corporate benefits package that would allow employees who take advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act—twelve weeks unpaid leave—to recoup their lost wages through an insurance program. In other words, corporate America would not have to pay for maternity leave (which could make hiring women of childbearing age seem to be a liability) if, for a small increase in premiums, medical leave insurance were an option for all Americans.
Such benefits would allow women, whether or not they could afford to take twelve weeks unpaid leave, the opportunity to recover from childbirth, establish breastfeeding, and begin a healthy relationship with their babies without having to file and qualify for short-term disability. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 23 percent of workers had access to paid family leave in 2021. https://www.bls.gov/ncs/ebs/factsheet/family-leave-benefits-fact-sheet.htm While this marks an encouraging, though small, increase, providing an insurance option should be a simple matter that all companies with more than fifty employees (those required by the Family Medical Leave Act to provide unpaid leave) should find feasible. Moreover, even smaller companies might find it worth the investment as part of their standard benefits package.
Such an insurance benefit would not cause anyone undue burden, but rather would open up a world of possibilities. And not just to women. Disabled employees, too, would be better equipped to offer their gifts in the workplace and take the time they need should a particular need arise in their care. Older employees would have wage insurance against a sudden medical emergency. My two friends who worked from home to support their families through their own cancer treatments could face chemotherapy without long hours in the virtual office. Those who have elderly parents to care for would benefit, and any employee injured outside of work would have a safety net.
This seems like a win-win for everyone, so why haven’t we done it? For fifty years “my body, my choice” has been translated by corporate America as “your baby, your problem.” Women have been forced to navigate the world of employment masquerading as men, hiding their family commitments for fear that they would be seen as unreliable and unworthy of advancement. The result has been a lack of real diversity in the workplace—fewer advancement opportunities for women (and for people with disabilities) mean there are fewer of them in corporate leadership to champion such simple solutions as the insurance benefit I discuss here.
Now that corporate America can no longer hide behind abortion as birth control, it makes sense for women to demand benefits that will give them a true place at the table, not competing in a “man’s world” but genuinely contributing as women. Unpaid leave insurance, admittedly, would be a small step, but one that would benefit women when they give birth—as well as others who need to take time off from a job to attend to pressing family/medical concerns.