Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Women Struggling to Afford Care

From Tuesday's Argus Leader

By Shannon Stevens

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released a new report placing a spotlight on the impact that the nation's health care crisis is having on women, particularly women of childbearing age.

The report, titled "Roadblocks to health care: Why the current health care system does not work for women," states that "women are more vulnerable to high health care costs ... (because) women's reproductive health requires more regular contact with health care providers, including yearly Pap tests, mammograms and obstetric care."

The report from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius underscores the real need to ensure that women have access to quality, affordable reproductive health care as part of any health reform effort. The findings of the report reaffirm what we see firsthand at Planned Parenthood health centers every day when women turn to us for affordable, accessible, high-quality preventive care.

Planned Parenthood health centers in our region are seeing an increase in patients who have lost their jobs or their health insurance or who no longer have the money to pay for lifesaving medical care. Some women are deferring annual exams, including preventive cancer screenings, and buying fewer cycles of contraception.

To get a sense of how widespread the need for health care reform is, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Commonwealth Fund say there are 45.7 million Americans without health insurance and an additional 25 million who are underinsured.

On top of that, one in five nonelderly women is underinsured, and more than 17 million women need publicly supported reproductive health care, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Guttmacher Institute.

According to the Women's Research and Education Institute, women of childbearing age spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men in part because of reproductive health-related supplies and services. A recent survey conducted for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists found that women are delaying their annual exams as a result of the economic downturn.

Here in South Dakota, having a job doesn't mean having health insurance. In fact, 72 percent of the uninsured are employed. According to the Center for American Progress, only North Dakota and New Hampshire have higher rates of workers without health coverage.

As health care providers, we know firsthand that women are disproportionately affected by the economic downturn and in tough times will put many things before their own basic health care.We know sexually transmitted infections continue to pose a serious public health threat in the country, particularly to young women. Without detection and treatment, these infections can lead to serious short- and long-term health consequences, including infertility.

The demand for health care is urgent, and the value of prevention, a cornerstone of Planned Parenthood services, is self-evident.As state and federal governments consider reforms to our health care system, we all have a critical interest in not only maintaining access to quality health care services for our patients but also in expanding access to all in need of comprehensive health care in order to build healthier, stronger families.

Additional Facts
Shannon Stevens, 32, of Sioux Falls is the South Dakota public affairs manager for Planned Parenthood Minnesota/South Dakota.

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