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The Gender Gap in Health Care: A Checklist for Change

by Andrea Irwin

Health care is quickly becoming the hottest political topic at both the state and federal levels, yet, we don’t often hear about the role gender plays in health care access and affordability generally.  If you don’t have health insurance or can’t afford your birth control pills or the newest mammogram technology, then how meaningful are the new breakthrough medical advancements?

Our new report, issued by the Commonwealth Fund, identifies “the affordability gap” as the most significant impediment to women’s health coverage.  Women have less access to insurance through their employers because they are less likely to be employed and more likely to work part-time.  On average, women use more health care services and have higher out-of-pocket costs than men as a share of their income.  Given the well-documented and long-standing gender gap in pay and greater health care needs of women, it’s certainly no surprise that women are more likely to go without care because they can’t afford it and to have medical bill and debt problems.  Minimizing and eliminating this gender gap in health care should be a critical component of any health care reform proposal.  Our companion report “Women and Health Coverage: A Framework for Moving Forward” offers this checklist as a tool for examining new health care proposals.

Does the policy:

  • Cover everyone?  Including:
    • Low-income individuals (providing subsidies as needed)?
    • Individuals who work part-time or are outside the work force and their dependents? 
  • Balance the needs of the uninsured with those who already have health insurance?
  • Utilize large groups so that the risk to any one individual is minimized, thus making coverage affordable for everyone?
  • Offer comprehensive benefits, including services that women need?
  • Minimize out-of-pocket costs (e.g. copayments and deductibles)?

Nearly 45 million Americans are uninsured and one in four women are either uninsured for part or all of the year.  That’s a lot of women who are missing their annual pap smears, diabetes screenings, flu shots, and other critical health services because their health care is too costly or insurance is unattainable.  This checklist is an important start to moving forward and recognizing women’s unique health care needs in the context of the larger debate.

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