Women make up over half of the population of the United States, yet they still do not have the same rights as men, with many of those differences being in the field of healthcare. Currently, women have access to healthcare in many ways: through their or their spouse’s employer-based insurance, direct purchase, or Medicaid (government-funded health coverage). However, health care for women seems to always be at risk or inadequate. This issue of female healthcare can be attributed to two things: political and religious opinions, which may also include gender biases or discrimination.
Within American democracy, the two main political parties are divided on the issue of women’s health and access to care. Democrats have worked to provide healthcare coverage for all citizens but have clearly pushed for contraception for women as well as funding for and access to clinics such as Planned Parenthood, which offer anything from sexually transmitted diseases (STI) treatment to breast cancer screenings to abortions. Republicans are less in favor of the government’s intervention with citizen’s healthcare needs as well as clinics like Planned Parenthood because of the party’s general view on abortions.
However, no matter what party has the majority in the House or the Senate, or who has control of the White House, women are always in need of healthcare. Around 60 percent of women who are of reproductive age currently use a method of contraceptive according to the Guttmacher Institute1. While some only see contraceptives—methods of preventing pregnancy—such as the pill, IUD, ring or patch as something with one use, the pill can be used to treat medical diagnoses such as endometriosis, a painful disorder where the tissue that lines the uterus grows outside of it; Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, an imbalance of hormones that causes irregular menstrual periods and other issues; as well as general pain during periods; acne; and can also lower the risk of getting anemia6. Women’s healthcare also includes a myriad of other things, such as abortions and referrals; HIV services; pregnancy testing and appointments for other care; STD testing and treatments; cancer screenings, especially those for breast cancer like mammograms; and Pap or HPV tests9. As the fight for adequate women’s healthcare has gone on, people have become less educated on what services women need to be healthy and in control of their bodies. Many pro-life (anti-abortion) supporters have also reduced Planned Parenthood to an abortion clinic in their arguments against its federal and state funding, simply because they do not know much about it or because they refuse to acknowledge the high number of other things it does for women, men, and the work it does for LGBT+ community members’ health.
This issue of the lack of providers for women’s health services will not be a problem if the women themselves do not have access to basic healthcare. In 2016, over 98 million women in the United States were between the ages of 19-64 (considered by the study as “reproductive age”), and over 10 percent of them were uninsured3. Fifty-nine percent of these insured women reported using coverage from their employer (35 percent) or from their spouse’s (24 percent). Medicaid only covered 17 percent of non-elderly adult women, including pregnant women, mothers, women over 65 and those who have a disability3. [See Figure One.] There is also a greater risk for women in minority groups to not have adequate access to insurance. In 2016, the average of uninsured women of reproductive age was 11 percent, however, 12 percent of Black women were uninsured, 20 percent of Hispanic women, 16 percent of single mothers and 24 percent of those with less than a high school education3. [See Figure Two.] These groups of women are facing multiple forms of discrimination in their life and are being denied what should be a basic right in the United States. With roughly 60 percent of all women of reproductive age using some kind of contraceptive, it is no longer optional for women to have insurance.
And the issue of women’s healthcare is not just related to insurance and contraceptives. Women encounter issues at every level of healthcare, from primary physicians to ER doctors. A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that when visiting an emergency room, women waited 16 minutes longer than men to receive pain medication8. Research by the American Heart Association found only 39 percent of women who experience cardiac arrest in a public place receive CPR as opposed to 45 percent of men10. In a survey done with over 2,400 women by the National Pain Report found that over 80 percent of them felt gender discrimination at some point from a healthcare provider8. Women also face a stigma of talking about their health as many healthcare providers tell them pain “is all in their heads.” For example, around 10 percent of women suffer from endometriosis, but the condition takes on average seven to eight years to properly diagnose10. These gaps in the female healthcare system will only grow if they are not fixed soon.
With greater access to healthcare for women, their health will only increase. While common contraception may be seen as going against some religious beliefs or as “abortion-inducing drugs” to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, these methods of preventing pregnancy offer women more freedom and are also becoming more common for addressing issues other than pregnancy.
Abortion has become one of the most controversial issues of the United States since Roe v. Wade went to the Supreme Court in 1973, but at the end of the day is for women to make decisions about their own bodies, especially in terms of rape or other related cases. Barack Obama’s Health and Human Services Rule established that states cannot block funding to healthcare providers for political reasons12, but with the election of Donald Trump came the passing of an exemption low so that employers are able to claim moral or religious reasons in order to not provide contraception coverage5. This work to block women from contraception is happening at the same time as the “Protect Life” Rule, which would restrict federal funding from any organization that supports, refers or performs abortions11. These laws and motions are able to be passed because of the lack of representation for women in higher levels of government as well as the lack of education on government programs like the Affordable Care Act (2010). In a survey of 1,890 adults, 35 percent of respondents did not know that Obamacare and the Affordable Care Act were different policies7. [See Figure Three.] This allows for political and personal bias to get in the way of many Americans receiving healthcare.
The question is: Why don’t women have adequate healthcare at this point? In reality, there is more than one answer. Gender bias and discrimination is still prominent in today’s society, which is blatantly obvious when looking at the group of people who are making decisions about American’s healthcare. Although women have become more involved in politics in the past decades, there is still the issue of sexism in the federal government. In 2017 the Senate assembled a group of all men, conservatives and outspoken opposers of the Affordable Care Act, to focus on health care4. Some healthcare arguments, especially those surrounding abortion and birth control, are charged politically and religiously as many religious groups have expressed their anti-abortion opinions, as well as some members of the government that are religious. However, the issue of healthcare should not be based on opinions or beliefs except that everyone should be healthy. Politicians should use data and statistics to show them what the country needs and what is working. These issues are things that need to be addressed and understood in the government otherwise women will continue to be ignored, mistreated, and denied their basic needs.
1. Chalhoub, Theresa. “ACA Sabotage Puts Women’s Health at Risk,” Center for American Progress. 13 September 2018. <https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/healthcare/news/2018/09/13/458093/aca-sabotage-puts-womens-health-risk/>.
2. “Contraceptive Use in the United States,” Guttmacher Institute. July 2018. < https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/contraceptive-use-united-states>
3. Foundation, Kaiser Family. “Women’s Health Insurance Coverage,” KFF. 31 October 2017. <https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/fact-sheet/womens-health-insurance-coverage-fact-sheet/>.
4. Graves, Lucia. “Why are 13 men in charge of healthcare for all American women?” The Guardian. 28 June 2017. <https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jun/28/womens-healthcare-republican-senate-bill>
5. Kliff, Dylan Scott and Sarah. “Leaked regulation: Trump plans to roll back Obamacare birth control mandate,” Vox. 31 May 2017. <https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/5/31/15716778/trump-birth-control-regulation>.
6. “Medical Uses of the Birth Control Pill,” Center for Young Women’s Health. 19 July 2018. <https://youngwomenshealth.org/2011/10/18/medical-uses-of-the-birth-control-pill/>.
7. Nyhan, Kyle Dropp and Brendan. “One-Third Don’t Know Obamacare and Affordable Care Act Are the Same,” The New York Times. 7 February 2017. <https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/upshot/one-third-dont-know-obamacare-and-affordable-care-act-are-the-same.html>.
8. Pagán, Camille Noe. “When Doctors Downplay Women’s Health Concerns,” The New York Times.. 3 May 2018. <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/well/live/when-doctors-downplay-womens-health-concerns.html>.
9. Parenthood, Planned. “Our Services,” Planned Parenthood. <https://www.plannedparenthood.org/get-care/our-services>.
10. Schopen, Fay. “The healthcare gender bias: do men get better medical treatment?” The Guardian. 20 November 2017. <https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/nov/20/healthcare-gender-bias-women-pain>.
11. Varney, Sarah. “‘Contraception deserts’ likely to widen under new Trump policy,” The CT Mirror. 30 September 2018. <https://ctmirror.org/2018/09/30/contraception-deserts-likely-widen-new-trump-policy/>
12. Vestal, Christine. “How states are fighting over women’s access to health care,” PBS News Hour. 25 July 2017. <https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/states-fighting-womens-access-health-care>.