Health Care Tops the List of Women’s Concerns for Families
October 28, 2008 Posted by Amy Allina, Program and Policy Director, National Women’s Health Network
When you scratch the surface of people’s worries about the problems their families may face in these tough economic times, the latest political polls show that health care is at the top of the list. Almost 40 percent of people surveyed in early October listed health care as the first concern for their families – far ahead of the stock market or credit card debt. Women, in particular, have much at stake in the push for quality, affordable health care for all. The U.S. health care system has consistently failed to give women and girls access to the care we need. It’s also created tremendous challenges for the women who coordinate health care for our families. Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need, a national initiative working to engage a broad array of women and women’s health advocates in health reform conversations, has been talking with women about their health care experiences and supporting women’s efforts to bring their stories to policy forums around the country. We’ve held discussions with women from all age groups and from a range of racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds, as well as diverse sexual identities. What we’re hearing mirrors what the poll numbers show: women are worried about losing their health insurance, about the high cost of health care, and about insurance company practices that it impossible to get the insurance and care that we, and our family members, need. Women feel the squeeze first as health care becomes more expensive because of the cumulative effects of gender differences in health care needs and persistent economic discrimination. An older woman told us of her struggles to pay the medical bills that Medicare fails to take care of: “I have to have two or three plans in order to cover all my medical needs, and I cannot afford prescription drugs. Many times I have had to decide whether or not to get medication because I could not afford it.” But affordability isn’t the only problem women are struggling with. In Oregon, a woman pointed out the serious health consequences that women face as insurance companies impose cost cutting measures that interfere with health care providers’ ability to give high quality care, according to best practices. “If you want to get birth control,” she explained, “they only allow you to get it once a month. I just feel like it raises the risk for unwanted pregnancies.” And women who need health care services because they’re sick or managing a chronic disease often find they can’t get health insurance at all. In many states, insurance companies can refuse to provide coverage to people who really need health care – such as women with breast cancer or diabetes. Some companies also deny coverage to women who delivered babies by cesarean section, as about a third of pregnant women in this country now do. With the Wall Street crisis continuing to make headlines and the election a week away, the economy is clearly a critical issue for the country and for the next president. But how can policymakers take action that will have a real affect on the economic well-being of real people and families who are struggling? What comes through loud and clear when women talk today is that to give women peace of mind we must make sure our families have the right to affordable, continuous access to quality health care that cannot be taken away. When women go to the polls next week and as we talk with policymakers over the coming year, we must make sure the new President and Congress understand that fixing the U.S. health care system is an essential component of restoring our families’ economic health and confidence.
As Program and Policy Director of the NWHN, Amy plans and implements the organization’s policy agenda in its priority areas, including its work for quality, affordable health care with Raising Women's Voices for the Health Care We Need. Amy is on the board of directors and the executive committee of the Guttmacher Institute, an organization that advances sexual and reproductive health through research, policy analysis and public education. Prior to joining the NWHN in 1999, Amy worked for the Reproductive Health Technologies Project and on other women's health policy issues at the consulting firm of Bass and Howes.
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