Monday, November 30, 2009
Women and health care reform
|I broke my arm last month and have been through an odyssey of tests and treatments. With the experience so fresh, health care reform has been top of mind. I’m keenly aware that Congress is under intensifying pressure to deliver a bill and that consumers are polarized over key (and sometimes tangential) talking points. In the midst of the confusion, it’s indisputable to many that our current system is failing, and failing women in particular. More than 76 percent of women believe our health care system should be reformed or radically changed, according to a poll conducted this past spring by the National Women’s Law Center.
It's no wonder: In study after study, we’ve learned that women are more likely than men to forgo needed doctor visits, tests, treatments, prescriptions and follow-ups, even though they have a higher awareness and understanding of the need. Today, 60 percent of women are unable to pay their medical bills. As we know intuitively, fewer women than men have full-time jobs (52 percent versus 73 percent) where decent private insurance is accessible. And those who work part time or are tending to children at home are out of luck: They are paying excessively for individual policies, funding care out-of-pocket or forgoing care entirely with no ability to pay.
Even when women are insured, they’re victims of “gender rating,” where women, as well as businesses with a majority female work force, are often charged more than men for the exact same coverage. This is because women are more likely to use health care than men are: They need coverage for a full range of reproductive services and are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions such as arthritis or asthma). The “new normal” of insurance – stripped down plans with escalating co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket charges – is particularly hard on and harmful to women. Preventive and “well care” is seemingly out the proverbial window.
As the federal government struggles with the question of health care reform, I hope that the gender inequalities that have forced women into a sort of medical underclass are front and center. For those interested, there’s some enlightening and useful information available from organizations like the National Partnership for Women and Families, Moms Rising and the aforementioned National Women’s Law Center. These groups, and others like them, are pushing hard for fairness and parity and a true representation of women's experiences, in whatever form new legislation takes.
It’s biologically irrefutable: Women’s health impacts their jobs, their families and society at large. We need Congress to recognize this as it considers both new subsidies and cost-saving opportunities. Perhaps this should be at the core of reform, understanding that the process will be complex, multi-tiered and gradual. Although said often through the national debate of the last 11 months, helping women stay healthy will help us all.