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Health Care Reform is "Women's Business?"

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September 21, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. - After months of Congressional debate about health care reform, the Senate Finance Committee is expected to take up Sen. Max Baucus' proposal on Tuesday. As legislation is crafted, First Lady Michelle Obama is challenging women to speak up about health care reform. Obama points out that women are the primary decision-makers about their family's health care and they often carry a heavier economic burden, too.

Susan Wood, Ph.D., director of the Jacobs Institute of Women's Health at George Washington University and the author of several studies on women and health care, lays out the facts: About 20 percent of women under the age of 65 have no health care insurance; in some states, women are denied coverage if they have experienced domestic violence; and when women do have coverage, they are charged higher premiums and often see a long list of preexisting conditions that are excluded, with pregnancy sometimes on that list.

"Women also pay more out-of-pocket than men do, particularly during their reproductive years. It not only is a cost burden to the woman and her family, but it keeps women from getting the care that they need."

The lack of stable, high-quality, affordable health care during a woman's reproductive years can be connected to chronic diseases later in her life, Wood says, such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Woods' research shows that those two conditions in women, combined, cost families more than $200 billion a year in direct medical expenses.

Wood promotes the idea of "well woman" visits for primary and reproductive care for all women through all stages of life. She says right now that kind of care is rarely available and is rarely covered by private insurance.

"At a 'well-woman' visit, blood pressure is taken, blood sugar can be monitored, screening for depression and domestic violence and counseling about smoking can be provided. These are issues that can have serious consequences for a woman, either right then or later in life."

Wood's latest report, "The Economic Burden of Disease in Women," is at www.wellwoman09.org.

Deb Courson, Public News Service - AZ