and Health Insurance:
Falling Through the Cracks?
Are women falling through the cracks of America's health care
Signs point to yes, according the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF),
who in 2005 conducted an expansive
survey on women's relationships with health care and health
Following the survey, the Kaiser Family Foundation published an
extensive report on their findings. Women and Health Care: A
National Profile put a spotlight on women's issues concerning
health care and health insurance.
Health Disparities between Women and Men
While the KFF recognizes the importance of health care for both
women and men, they advocate that health care is not gender neutral.
Women, says the KFF, have more complex health needs than men. In
addition to pregnancy and related reproductive health needs, women
also have a higher incidence of chronic illness for which they need
ongoing medical treatment (38 percent of women versus 30 percent of
men). Women are also at a much greater risk for maladies such as
osteoporosis and autoimmune diseases like lupus, multiple sclerosis
and rheumatoid arthritis—all of which require ongoing treatment.
In addition, women tend to live longer and therefore use more
health care services throughout their lives. Women have also been
shown to be the major decision-makers on health issues for their
family, thus making their access to all facets of the health care
Unfortunately, the Kaiser report shows that women are faced with
numerous barriers, both logistic and economic, which hinder their
access to the country's health care system.
Barriers between Women and Health Care
The KFF reports that women face a multitude of barriers to health
care, some of which include:
- Lack of coverage
- Non-Comprehensive coverage
- Out-of-pocket expenses
- Restrictions of physician choice
- Lack of time due to imbalance of work and family
According to the KFF Fact Sheet on Women's Health Insurance
Coverage, women are less likely to be eligible to participate in
their employer's health plan due to the fact that women are more
likely to work part time, have lower incomes and rely more on
spousal coverage. In fact, men are 51 percent more
likely to be covered under their employer's group health plan than
women at a 38 percent.
What does this mean?
Unfortunately, it means that women are more prone to losing
health coverage when premiums increase or when employers reduce
their contribution to family coverage.
Women and Health Insurance
While most women carry some form of private health insurance,
coverage is not always stable or guaranteed. One out of every 10
women who work full time is without health coverage. Even
with health insurance, there are often disparities in benefits
covered by her plan, out-of-pocket costs and access to the services
she needs—almost 16 percent of insured women have been denied
approval or payment for a health care service.
And while the majority of women carry some form of heath
coverage, a whopping 17 million women over the age
of 18 are without health insurance in the United States.
Insufficient or lack of coverage poses a great threat to a
woman's well-being, as the KFF report clearly illustrates.
As earlier mentioned, while many women carry some form of health
insurance, numerous policies do not cover the services most needed
by women. According to the KFF, as health costs swell, 27 percent of
non-elderly women (under age 65) and 67 percent of uninsured women
report that they delayed or went without treatment
because of the cost for that treatment. Additionally, uninsured
women are far less likely to be screened for breast, cervical and
colon cancer, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis—all major
maladies affecting women.
Battling Prescription Drug Costs
The National Profile by the KFF found that nearly six in
10 women (56 percent) take at least one prescription drug on a
regular basis compared to 42 percent of men. While this disparity
may be caused by women's use of oral contraceptives and hormone
replacement therapy, it reinforces that these medications are
commonly taken by women and are difficult to afford without adequate
The survey also reported that 41 percent of uninsured women
did not fill a prescription due to costs, as did 17 percent of
women with health insurance. Additionally, 26 percent of women
admitted to skipping or reducing a dose of their medication to make
it last longer.
These statistics communicate that even insured women are not
guaranteed reduced drug costs—a common misconception to the public.
Covering America's Women
With such unsatisfactory statistics, it is important to find
resources for women that lack or have inadequate health coverage.
Organizations like the Society for Women's Health Research (SWHR)
and the National Women's Health Information Center are dedicated to
women's health issues and are great sources of information for women
in need of health assistance.
If you are an uninsured woman, the SWHR offers information on the
- The National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early
Detection Program. Provides free or low-cost mammograms
and Pap tests for women over the age of 39.
- Maternal and Child Services. Provides
health care for low-income women who are pregnant with children
under the age of 22.
- Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Provides
education on nutrition and child care for low-income,
breastfeeding, and postpartum women. WIC also provides health
coverage for children under the age of five.
If you do not qualify for government-sponsored care, you may
obtain care through free clinics, prescription drug
assistance plans or temporary state insurance—to
name just a few.
For more information on women's health research and assistance
programs, contact the SWHR at (202) 223-8224 or the National Women's
Health Information Center at (800) 944-WOMAN.
The Bottom Line
Technological advancements have been made to improve the quality
of life for women. Unfortunately, without improvements in health
coverage, over 17 million women will not have access to them.
The epidemic of insufficient health coverage for women affects
all of us with mothers, sisters, partners and friends. Encourage the
women in your life to make their health a top priority by seeking
more comprehensive health insurance, or by utilizing assistance
programs in your state.
For more on the Kaiser Family Foundation or their report,
Women and Health Care: A National Profile, contact
the Foundation at its Public Affairs Center: (202) 347-5270, or
visit them on the Web at www.kff.org.