70% women are uninsured or underinsured

Women are more likely than men to feel the pinch of rising health costs and eroding health benefits, with about half (52%) of working-age women reporting problems accessing needed care because of costs, compared to 39 percent of men, a new Commonwealth Fund study finds.

Women who are insured but have inadequate coverage are especially vulnerable: 69 percent of underinsured women have problems accessing care because of costs, compared to half (49%) of underinsured men.

The study, Women at Risk: Why Many Women Are Forgoing Needed Health Care, by Commonwealth Fund researchers Sheila Rustgi, Michelle Doty, and Sara Collins finds that overall, seven of 10 working-age women, or an estimated 64 million women, have no health insurance coverage or inadequate coverage, medical bill or debt problems, or problems accessing needed health care because of cost.

“More families are making difficult choices between needed health care, making payments on mortgages or credit card debt, and purchasing basic necessities,” said Commonwealth Fund President Karen Davis. “This study underscores the need for affordable universal health coverage and protection against catastrophic financial losses not only for women-who are more likely to be at risk for high premiums and medical bills-but for all Americans.”

Women are more affected by high health care costs because they have lower average incomes but higher out-of-pocket health costs than men, and use the health care system more frequently.

The study is based on data from the Commonwealth Fund’s 2007 Biennial Health Insurance Survey, and is therefore likely to understate the scope of the problem since unemployment and loss of insurance coverage have increased during the current economic recession, the researchers say.

“Although similar proportions of women and men were uninsured for at least part of the year or were underinsured, we found that women were more affected by exposure to health care costs,” said Michelle Doty, Director of Survey Research at the Commonwealth Fund.

The study found:

– 52 percent of women had any one of four problems getting needed health care because of cost compared to 39 percent of men: did not fill a prescription; did not see a specialist when needed; skipped a recommended medical test, treatment, or follow-up; or had a medial problem but did not visit a doctor or clinic.

– 45 percent of women accrued medical debt or reported problems with medical bills in 2007, compared to 36 percent of men.

– Women were also more likely to skip tests and screenings: almost half of women (45%) delayed or did not receive a cancer screening or dental care because of costs, compared to 36 percent of men.

Source: Commonwealth Fund, USA

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