Overcoming Roadblocks to Health Care for Women

Marcia Greenberger

In her reader diary, Marcia Greenberger writes, "In honor of National Women’s Health Week, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a new report explaining why the current health care system does not work for women."

In honor of National Women’s Health Week, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a new report this morning on why the current health care system does not work for women.

This report underscores what women have been saying for a long time: that our current health care system fails to meet the needs of far too many women. It reflects the importance of bringing a women’s lens to the health care reform debate, and how essential it is that health care reform meet the needs of women.

Overall, 18 percent of women are uninsured. Even for those who have health insurance, women are more likely than men to have health coverage that has too many gaps, including large co-pays, life-time limits, and the exclusion of needed services altogether. Currently, all women – whether they have insurance or not – are more likely than men to face challenges paying for their medical bills – and are thus more likely than men to skip necessary medical care.

The HHS report cites extensively from an NWLC report, Nowhere to Turn, which was released in September 2008. This research found that when women try to buy health insurance directly from insurance companies in the individual market, insurers can refuse to sell women coverage due to any health history, and often charge women drastically higher premiums than men. In addition to being exorbitant in cost, this coverage is frequently limited in scope – often failing to cover women’s basic needs, such as maternity care.

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As the report acknowledges, gender rating is just one obstacle women come up against in our current health care system. Health care reform must also eliminate the many other challenges that women face in getting access to quality, affordable, comprehensive health care – including high costs and lack of coverage and access to needed services.

According to a poll conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates before the 2008 Presidential election, 84 percent of women said that it was extremely or very important for Congress and the new Administration to guarantee access to quality, affordable, comprehensive health care. It is heartening to see that the Administration is taking into careful consideration women’s unique roles as patients, as family health care decision makers, and as caregivers – both paid and unpaid.

We commend President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for their leadership on this issue, and look forward to working with them to enact meaningful reform that will bring a guarantee of quality, affordable comprehensive health care for us all.

To learn more about NWLC’s work around women and health care reform, visit www.nwlc.org/reformmatters. And don’t forget to tell your Members of Congress that women and their families need comprehensive health care reform this year.

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