Preventive Health Care for Women Saves Families, Save Lives

Paul Kawata

Health care reform must ensure that all women have access to quality preventive health care, screening and the essential community providers that continue to be the lifeline for many.

Last Thursday, the Senate HELP Committee approved an amendment
to its draft health care reform bill that set the stage to ensure that all women
have access to quality preventive health care, screening and the essential
community providers that continue to be the lifeline for many.

We at the National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) believe this amendment –
offered by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) – represents a critical step forward
in helping millions of women access preventive services, like HIV screenings,
to help improve health outcomes and save lives. It also guarantees that all
patients (men, women and children) in any health care gateway have access to
providers like HIV/AIDS clinics, public hospitals, and women’s health centers.

Preventative care is particularly important for women of
color. Often the primary care takers of their families, they tend to put the
needs of their family members and children ahead of their own – to the
detriment of their health. Since 1992, HIV rates among women of color have
risen nearly 10%, with over 80% of all HIV cases among women in this country
occurring among Black and Hispanic women.

These rates are symptomatic of the larger
socio-economic and health disparities found in communities of color in the U.S., which
have been disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS since the epidemic began
nearly three decades ago. Together, high rates of poverty and homelessness, as
well as lack of access to education, full employment and health insurance, have
created significant barriers to health care in communities of color. These same
trends often are found in rural America
as well, where health care entities are severely limited, if available at all.
Women in communities of color and rural areas often wait until symptoms of HIV
disease or other illness are fully manifested, forcing them to use their local
hospital emergency rooms for primary care and severely undermining their health
outcomes.

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Women’s Health Amendment would cover women of color’s access to services from
minority faith- and community-based organizations (MF/CBOs), which provide
culturally competent and easily accessible health and HIV/AIDS services in communities
of color throughout the country. Over 4,000 strong, MF/CBOs have saved
countless lives by providing their clients easily accessible health care
services. Supporting their ability to provide a diverse range of services will
encourage women to take advantage of preventative services currently not
included by the Affordable Health Choices Act: cancer screenings, well-women
exams, pre-natal care, pap tests, and other prevention care, while accessing
care for their children and other family members.

We are alarmed to learn that some of our representatives oppose health care
reform. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R, UT) and the Family Research Council, among others,
have falsely attacked this amendment as a mandate for abortion coverage. This
amendment covers life-saving preventive care; abortion is not preventive care.
To use a political red herring to attack preventive services that are
desperately needed in this country – particularly by underserved populations,
including the 70 million Americans who lack adequate insurance coverage for the
routine health care that others take for granted, is offensive and
preposterous.
A wide range of groups support protecting patients’ access to essential
community providers, including Families USA, SEIU, Campaign for America’s Future,
Health Care for America Now, American Nurses Association, American Academy of
Nursing, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National
Association of People with AIDS, National Women’s Law Center, and the National
Partnership for Women and Families.

We are calling on all people of conscious to unite around a common purpose:
improving access to quality, affordable health care for all Americans, not
launching inaccurate attacks that reek of old political debates. Call your
member of Congress, write a letter to the editor, blog about this – get the
word out that we will not stand for false accusations, as attempts to derail
desperately needed health care reform.

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