Broad reforms to women’s health care are desperately needed in the US, according to a new paper published by the American College of Physicians.
According to the nation’s largest association of doctors, women still face discrimination in the health care system and are underrepresented in policy-making and research settings alike.
The group is now also calling on physicians to provide better depression and abuse screening to women and to give women access to and authority over their own reproductive decisions – including abortions.
Following the past several years’ worth of research unveiling the broad health disparities faced by American women, the American College of Physicians is recommended both practical and policy-based changes to close the gaps.
The American College of Physicians is calling on policy-makers to make women’s healthcare in the US more thorough and accessible in a new position paper published Monday
There are 157 million women in the US. About 11 percent of those women are likely uninsured or at risk of being uninsured, according research conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation last year.
Furthermore, about half of those women are unhappy with what they pay for the coverage they get.
The first recommendation emphasized by the American College of Physicians (ACP) – the largest association of doctors in the US, with 152,000 members – states that women deserve more equal access to health insurance and services.
‘While ACP supports access to non-discriminatory health care coverage for all persons, we recognize that women often experience discriminatory and inequitable barriers that make it harder for them to get the care they need,’ said ACP president Ana Maria Lopez.
The new position paper expressed particular concern that insurers charge women more for their plans than the companies ask men to pay.
When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) came into effect, it brought with it a provision that prohibited insurance companies from charging women more for coverage.
Prior to its enactment, women were routinely charged as much as 50 percent more for their plans, according to Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) research.
Women tend to visit the doctor more often, live longer and they bear children, leading to claims that they consume more health care and should therefore pay more for health care.
But this cost creates a barrier to treatment for women. One in every four women reports delaying seeking medical attention due to the high financial costs, as opposed to one in five men who do the same.
One of the resources that many low-income American women turn to in their moments of medical need is Planned Parenthood.
The services provided there include low-cost birth control, family planning and abortion.
Last Tuesday, the US Department of Health and Human Services proposed a ‘gag rule’ that would prohibit the appropriation of federal funding to any facility that offers abortion or even information about abortions.
Some have argued that this would effectively de-fund Planned Parenthood and similar services.
Now, less than a week after the proposal, the ACP’s guidance stands in strong opposition to the gag rule.
‘ACP believes in respect for the principle of patient autonomy on matters affecting patients’ individual health and reproductive decision-making rights, including about types of contraceptive methods they use and whether or not to continue a pregnancy as defined by existing constitutional law,’ the authors write.
‘Accordingly, ACP opposes government restrictions that would erode or abrogate a woman’s right to continue or discontinue a pregnancy.
‘Women should have sufficient access to evidence-based family planning and sexual health information and the full range of medically accepted forms of contraception,’ the panel asserts.
Loopholes in US law have also allowed insurers to deny access to certain elements of healthcare to women on maternity leave, and the US remains the only country among 187 industrialized nations that provides less than six weeks maternity leave.
The ACP urges policy-makers to bring the US in line with its peer nations, and writes that it strives for ‘universal’ paid family leave for the parents of newborns, in order to help ease the burden on these families.
Women also suffer disproportionately from both depression and sexual or domestic abuse, and – echoing earlier guidance from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists – is calling on doctors to take every opportunity they see their female patients to screen them for both issues.
‘Health care is important to a woman’s personal, social, and economic well-being. Policymakers must take into account women’s health needs over their lifespan and take action to strengthen the health care system and societal structures to support them and their families,’ said Dr Lopez.
‘Addressing these issues will help to advance the goal of achieving health equity among all citizens and improve health care outcomes of future generations,’ she added.