25 July 2011

One Step Closer to Reforming Women’s -- and Communities’ -- Health Nationwide

[August 1, 2011 UpdateSecretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, accepted the Institute of Medicine recommendations that key preventive health services for women, including contraception, be covered by insurance without co-pays or deductibles. More.]

After learning that a record number of anti-choice laws were passed in the first half of 2011, we were ready for some good news.

Now, thanks to an independent committee of medical and health experts charged with recommending how health care reform should consider women’s preventive health, we have something to cheer. If the Department of Health and Human Services accepts the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) findings, released last Wednesday, women may soon have far greater access to family planning and a range of services intended to help keep women—and their families and communities—healthy. 

Among the most groundbreaking—and contentious—of the committee’s evidence-based suggestions is that insurance companies eliminate co-pays and deductibles for contraception, paving the way for millions of women to access the complete range of FDA-approved methods. Once law, this would mark an enormous milestone in the women’s reproductive health movement, which has long sought to remove the barrier of cost to family planning.

But, while birth control has received the greatest amount of attention, the IOM also recommended full coverage of other essential services including breastfeeding support, screening and counseling for HIV, domestic violence and gestational diabetes, and strengthened cervical cancer detection.

Taken together, the recommendations establish an evidence-based framework for what constitutes women’s preventive health—something long-debated in policy and practitioner circles. And they reinforce that women's health care is basic health care, not something “extra”—and therefore, subject to extra fees.

The IOM’s findings, if woven into the fabric of health reform, may also prove significant in reducing health disparities. For example, increased access to HIV screening and counseling is particularly crucial for low-income women and women of African descent. Roughly two-thirds of women with HIV/AIDS [pdf] have annual incomes below $10,000, and Black women are 23 times more likely to be diagnosed with AIDS than white women. Similarly, improved screening for cervical cancer would be especially important for Latinas, who are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease as non-Latina white women.

It’s no wonder, then, for the many ways it would establish greater equity and justice, that we very strongly urge Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, to accept the IOM’s expert recommendations. And we urge you to do the same—to join us, and our grantees, like Raising Women’s Voices, who informed the IOM report by delivering expert testimony and whose activism is making health reform a reality for women across the U.S. Together, let’s demand Sec. Sebelius accept what makes indisputable sense for the health of women—as well as their children, families, and communities. And once she agrees, we will truly rise to our feet.

Ellen Liu
Program Officer, Health
Ms. Foundation for Women

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