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Soaring Medical Costs Among Women Spell Health and Financial Problems
by Sophia Cariati

Women are significantly more likely than men to delay or go without healthcare and prescription drugs due to costs, according to results of a recent survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. What's more, a separate report reveals that the lifetime medical costs for three top health concerns among women can reach as much as $423,000. 

These findings, in conjunction with the current economic downturn, rapidly rising health care costs, and an increase in the number of uninsured women suggest barriers to healthcare may be on the rise for women. Recent Census Bureau figures reveal that the number of American women who lack health coverage rose to approximately 19.5 million between 2000 and 2001. Uninsured women have almost twice the rate of avoidable hospitalizations and experience a greater risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and other causes compared with their insured counterparts, according to a 2001 report of the American College of Physicians-American Society of Internal Medicine.

The Kaiser Family Foundation survey examined healthcare access and coverage among nearly 4,000 women and 700 men aged 18 to 64. Twenty-four percent of non-elderly women reported putting off or going without healthcare in the past year due to cost, compared with 16 percent of men. In addition, 21 percent of the women polled compared to 13 percent of the men did not fill a prescription because of cost barriers over the past year. Moreover, 32 percent of women had a chronic health condition such as arthritis, asthma or depression, requiring ongoing treatment compared with 24 percent of men.

"These findings emphasize the importance of addressing health costs, access and quality in improving women's health and well-being," said Alina Salganicoff, Ph.D., lead author of the survey report and vice president of the Kaiser Family Foundation, in a prepared statement.

While most widespread among the uninsured, paying for healthcare and prescription drugs was also a problem for women with insurance. Fifty-nine percent of uninsured, 42 percent of women in fair or poor health, and 31 percent of Latinas delayed or went without care because they couldn't afford it. In terms of medications, 40 percent of uninsured women, 27 percent of women with Medicaid and 15 percent of privately insured women failed to fill at least one prescription due to cost in the last year.

A separate study revealing soaring medical costs for women provides further evidence that healthcare for the under- and un-insured can be prohibitively expensive. Lifetime incremental medical costs for women are $423,000 for heart disease, $233,000 for type 1 or type 2 diabetes, and $58,000 for urinary incontinence, according to the report sponsored by the Partnership for Long-term Health for Women. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death among women while urinary incontinence and diabetes affects 33 percent and 8.2 percent of American women respectively.

"This report clearly illustrates the staggering medical costs of these conditions and the need for all Americans to have adequate insurance coverage," said Phyllis Greenberger, MSW, president and CEO of the Society for Women's Health Research. "It also underscores the importance of prevention and prevention research, particularly on these chronic conditions that affect women, as well as the availability of effective and accessible treatments."

The Society for Women's Health Research is the nation's only not-for-profit organization whose sole mission is to improve the health of women through research. Founded in 1990, the Society brought to national attention the need for the appropriate inclusion of women in major medical research studies and the resulting need for more information about conditions affecting women. The Society advocates increased funding for research on women's health, encourages the study of sex differences that may affect the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, and promotes the inclusion of women in medical research studies. Dr. Donnica Moore has been a member of the Society since 1990 and is a past member of its Board of Directors.

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Created: 11/23/2002  -  Sophia Cariati

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