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Women And Health Insurance in America

Women and health insurance

According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Women’s Health, more than 17 million women (nearly 20 percent) in the United States age 18 to 64 do not have health insurance. Will any of the reasons for this lack of affordable health insurance coverage be remedied by the potential healthcare reform?

Women are twice as likely as men to get their health insurance as a “dependent” on their husband’s plan. If a woman gets divorced, becomes a widow, or if her spouse loses his job, she risks loving her coverage. If she has the opportunity to continue her coverage through the COBRA program (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985), which requires most employers with group health plans to offer employees and their spouses and dependents the opportunity to continue their health insurance coverage for up to 36 months, depending on the circumstances (e.g., termination, layoff, divorce, death of the employee), she must pay for it.

Women without affordable health insurance tend to wait too long to seek treatment, and so they are more likely to suffer serious health problems. A hypothetical but relevant example can be found in T.R. Reid’s new book, The Healing of America, in which he explains how every industrialized democracy except the United States provides insurance and basic health care to nearly all of its citizens.

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In his example, he compares two American women who are single parents. One is a highly paid executive who has health insurance through her employer; the other is a domestic who has no health insurance but does not qualify for Medicaid. Both women begin to feel ill, so the executive visits her doctor, tests reveal early-stage ovarian cancer, she is promptly treated, and she lives to see her grandchildren. The domestic cannot afford to go to a doctor and does not seek medical care until her symptoms are unbearable. By that time her ovarian cancer is in advanced stages, she dies, and her daughter is left without a mother.

The story from the HHS supports Reid’s hypothetical tale. The agency reports that women without health insurance tend to not seek preventive care, including Pap tests and mammograms, and they do not fill necessary prescriptions because of cost. Research also shows that uninsured adults are more likely to die at a younger age than those who have insurance.

Even when woman have health insurance, the rising costs of health insurance premiums and associated charges can become overwhelming. One national survey reported that approximately 16 percent of women who have private medical insurance waited or went without needed care because they could not afford it.

For the millions of women who do not have health insurance, the wait for possible help from a healthcare reform package may be a long one, perhaps too long. Some women may find help through government-sponsored “safety-net” facilities that provide medical care for people who do not have insurance or money. The government also has several other services, including the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, which provides free or low-cost mammograms and Pap tests for women older than 39. Information about safety-net facilities and other programs can be found on the HHS Office of Women’s Health website.

Health and Human Services, Office of Women’s Health
Reid, T.R., The Healing of America