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June 24, 2007

Women and health care

As California moves toward adopting the most comprehensive health-care reform in the nation, the needs of half the state's population -- women -- must be taken into account.

A range of obstacles -- economic, social and logistical -- make it difficult for women to gain access to a full range of health services.

As the debate proceeds, lawmakers should remind themselves that women are the major consumers of health care -- because of their reproductive needs and because they live longer, with higher rates of chronic illness than men.

It's an uncomfortable truth that the wages of women still lag considerably behind men. The median income for women in California is about $37,000 -- compared to $45,000 for men. In fact, two-thirds of the 2.5 million uninsured women in California are from low-income backgrounds.

The ability of women and their families just to afford health coverage -- at a time of rising costs -- is one of the main issues that must be addressed in any health reform plan devised in Sacramento.

For health-care "reform" to be meaningful for most women in California, premiums need to be affordable. Women will need protection from high out-of-pocket costs from co-pays and deductibles. On average, high deductible health plans are 25 percent less than for traditional plans. But these plans often demand unaffordable out-of-pocket payments for routine events, such as having a baby.

Women are also at greater risk of losing health insurance. One in 5 women in California receives health coverage as a "dependent" through her husband's employment. That coverage is threatened when women are widowed, get divorced -- or when their spouses lose their jobs.

On top of that, women are more likely to work part time or only for part of the year. These part-time workers must also have access to affordable coverage. This is especially critical for mothers with children.

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Posted by healthinsurance at June 24, 2007 04:34 PM