Tag Archives: Health

The Affordable Care Act Extends No-Cost Preventive Care to Women

Nikki Ditto, WLP Intern

Wednesday, August 1st  is an important day for women’s health. After this date, all new insurance plans must cover certain women’s preventive health services, including contraceptives, without co-pays or deductibles. This represents an essential change in access to health care for women. Women, who have long been subjected to denial of access to insurance coverage for essential health services are more likely than men to forgo needed health care due to cost.  The number of women who can access these benefits will continue to expand as older plans lose their “grandfathered” status and become subject to the ACA’s preventive health services requirements.  For now, many college and university students will benefit if they receive health insurance through their schools, as those plans usually begin their health plan years around the start of the school year.  Other insurance policies that are renewed with substantially different content (usually on January 1st) will also comply with the new law.

Women whose insurance plans fall under the new guidelines will now have access to a number of services that will “keep them healthier and…catch potentially serious conditions at an earlier, more treatable stage,” according to Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. This includes annual well-woman visits, as well as screening and counseling for HPV, HIV, and STIs. Insurance policies will also have to cover testing for gestational diabetes, breastfeeding support, and domestic violence screening and counseling. Perhaps most significantly, women will also have access to birth control and other forms of contraception without a co-pay, though exceptions have been made for religious institutions and self-funded plans. These services add to the no-cost coverage that has already been implemented for pap smears and mammograms.

The Department of Health and Human Services reports that 20.4 million women have been and will be affected by this expansion in coverage. A startling 52% of women “report delaying needed medical care because of cost,” a number that will be decreased under the ACA. The Women’s Law Project (WLP) explained in its report Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women that “lack of access to the full range of women’s health care has many adverse health consequences.”  Many women are unable to afford contraceptives, which range from $15 to more than $1,000 up front depending on the methodThe contraceptive coverage rule will increase women’s access to these methods of contraception, which will help them plan pregnancies and address other health concerns, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, for which birth control pills are a common treatment.

Controversy continues over the provision requiring employer-provided insurance plans to cover birth control and other forms of contraception, including sterilization. As WLP blogged about today, twenty-four legal challenges are still pending in courts. The ACA already provides exceptions for religious institutions, and allows religiously affiliated businesses to push cost and administration on to the insurance companies. These accommodations, however, have not stopped the debate. WLP has blogged before about lawsuits that challenge the constitutionality of the provision on the basis of the First Amendment. As Terry Fromson, WLP’s Managing Attorney, explained, “the First Amendment does not give church leaders any right to impose their beliefs about contraception on women.”

Overall, the implementation of this provision of the ACA represents an important and necessary change to the way we view women and women’s health. Reproductive and sexual health must be seen as central to ensuring the health and well-being of all women, and not as a secondary concern. America will be healthier if women are given better access to the services necessary to care for themselves and their families, and increasing access to contraception is a step in the right direction.

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Filed under Contraception, First Amendment, Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Maternity Coverage, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Sexually Transmitted Infections, Women's health

Courts Come to Different Decisions on the ACA’s Provision Requiring Some Employers to Cover Contraception

Mary Pat Dwyer, WLP Law Intern

Two federal district court judges ruled recently on claims regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision which requires that employers providing health insurance to their employees cover reproductive health services, including birth control, emergency contraception, and other procedures.

On Tuesday, July 17, Judge Warren Urbom of the District of Nebraska dismissed a suit brought by several states, Catholic groups, and individual plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of the provision.  The groups argued that the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of association gave them the right to deny their employees coverage for these essential services.  The states claimed that the groups and others like them would cease to provide insurance for their employees rather than comply with the law, which in turn would increase the number of Medicaid applicants and adversely affect state budgets.

Judge Urbom found that the plaintiffs did not have standing to pursue their claim that the mandate violated the first amendment for two reasons.  First, the federal government has delayed enforcement of the provision until August 2013.  Because of this, the groups are not facing any imminent requirement to comply with the law, and thus cannot show the “direct and immediate harm” that plaintiffs must show in order to have the courts consider their claims. Second, the states claims that they would face increases in Medicaid costs were based purely on “layers of conjecture,” and had no factual grounding. Furthermore, Judge Urbom pointed out that the Department of Health and Human Services is currently considering revising the definition of religious employers under the ACA. Because of the potential for revision, none of the plaintiffs could show that they would ever be impacted by the provision.

On Friday, July 27, Judge John Kane of the District of Colorado reached a drastically different conclusion when he granted an injunction prohibiting the federal government from enforcing the provision against Hercules Industries Inc., a private corporation. Judge Kane found that for the Catholic plaintiffs, who serve as co-owners and board of directors of a company that manufactures HVAC equipment, the obligation to comply with the law threatened their right to exercise their religious beliefs under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). Katherine Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, expressed disappointment with Judge Kane’s decision, but also stated that she is “confident that as this case moves through the courts, the policy that most health insurance plans cover contraception will be upheld.” Sebelius also reaffirmed the administration’s position that “health decisions should be between women and their doctors, not their employers.”

Twenty-four similar lawsuits claiming that the requirement violates the First Amendment are still pending in courts across the country. These suits undermine the security of women’s health care, and it is crucial that the courts recognize the grave importance of comprehensive health care access. As WLP highlighted in Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women, women who face restricted access to contraceptive care suffer serious health risks as a result. Women who are unable to effectively and safely plan their pregnancies are more likely to experience pregnancy complications. For women who have preexisting conditions, such as diabetes, coronary artery disease, or arthritis, unintended pregnancies can be life threatening. Additionally, children born of unplanned pregnancies, face increased risks of premature birth, low birth, poor nutrition, and infant mortality.

Neither judge ruled on the constitutionality of the provision. However, as we have previously explained, the federal contraceptive coverage rule does not violate the First Amendment because it is a neutral law that does not target a particular faith and applies to everyone equally.  It is constitutional.

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Filed under Contraception, Emergency Contraception, Family Planning, Federal Court, First Amendment, Health Care, Health insurance, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

Abington Memorial Hospital and Holy Redeemer: Putting Women’s Health at Risk by Imposing Religious Doctrine on Patients

Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

UPDATE: On Wednesday, July 18, 2012, Abington Health and Holy Redeemer Health Systems announced that they have abandoned their plan to merge.

In late June 2012, Lawrence Merlis, president and CEO of Abington Health System, and Michael Laign, president and CEO of Holy Redeemer Health System announced a joint venture between the two suburban Philadelphia systems with the goal of creating a regional health system by the spring of 2013.  The result will be a partnership between a secular hospital system and a Catholic system, a partnership that will dilute the quality of care women across the region have come to expect from Abington Health’s facilities.  In particular, the partnership will force Abington to stop providing comprehensive reproductive healthcare for women, thereby putting women’s lives at risk.

In 2011, Abington performed 64 abortions, primarily for women with high risk pregnancies that compromised their health.  For women with such high risk pregnancies, abortion can be a life-saving procedure.  For other women, abortion terminates non-viable pregnancies, possibly due to fetal abnormalities or placental problems.  For all women, regardless of the reasons behind needing the procedure, it is a fundamental right protected by the United States Constitution, and it should be a choice that is available at a hospital they trust.

Women who receive their gynecologic and obstetric care from Abington Health, which is one of the largest maternity care providers in the Commonwealth, will have to find abortion services elsewhere.  Hospital officials have not commented on whether Abington will continue to perform selective reduction, a process after infertility treatments where the number of embryos is reduced to increase the woman’s chances of carrying a pregnancy to term, which is typically banned at Catholic hospitals. The hospital claims that it will continue to perform contraceptive services and counseling, such as tubal ligations and vasectomies, which are typically prohibited by Catholic doctrine, but it is unknown if the services could be withdrawn at any time.  

Thus, the full impact of the imposition of Catholic doctrine on Abington’s medical services, if the joint venture goes through, remains to be seen.  Catholic health systems are slowly monopolizing health care across the country.  As of 2011, approximately one-fifth of all hospital admissions in the United States and between 10 and 20 percent of admissions in Pennsylvania are to Catholic hospitals.  These systems impose their religious beliefs, contained in the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” on patients of all backgrounds and faiths, interfering with the medical practitioner-patient relationship.  In 2010, the Catholic Church made its position on women’s health very clear when it excommunicated a nun serving as a hospital administrator for permitting doctors to perform an abortion to save the pregnant women’s life.

The result of this policy in practice could be that women in need of abortion, possibly needed to save their lives, may have a delay in treatment or may require a transfer while they are unstable to a non-Catholic hospital.  Abington may thus become vulnerable to medical malpractice lawsuits and claims for violations of the Federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) for putting religious doctrine before women’s health.  The imposition of Catholic Directives on patient care may cause experienced staff to leave the hospital, and it may also cause patients in the area to seek maternity and other care elsewhere.

Opposition to Abington’s partnership with Holy Redeemer is growing.  Rabbis from congregations in the area have written a letter to Abington’s Lawrence Merlis, protesting the planned joint venture.  A Facebook group, Stop the Abington Hospital Merger, has also formed.

To learn more about the dangers of receiving reproductive health care at Catholic-affiliated hospitals, see the prior posts on this blog, “Patients Are Denied Health Care on Ideological Grounds” and “Nun Excommunicated from Catholic Church for Saving Woman’s Life” and WLP’s 2012 report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Abortion, Abortion Access, Health Care, Pennsylvania, Reproductive Rights, Women's health

The United States Supreme Court has weighed in: The Affordable Care Act is here to stay.

By Women’s Law Project

The Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed into law by President Obama in March 2010, expands health insurance coverage to more than 30 million people, prevents insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions, and ends abusive insurance practices.  On June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the law, finding that the individual mandate (which is the requirement that everyone carry insurance or pay a fine) is constitutional under Congress’ taxing power.  The Court also upheld the Medicaid expansion provision (which expands Medicaid eligibility for residents to 133 percent of the federal poverty level) as long as states that refuse to comply do not lose all of their Medicaid funding.

While some provisions of the ACA have already gone into effect, other provisions will be in effect by 2014.  This law will improve the lives of women and children across the country, allowing them to access affordable health care.  The ACA benefits women in many ways, including by preventing insurers from using pregnancy, domestic violence, and sexual violence as a basis for denying women coverage (pre-existing conditions), prohibiting the practice of charging women higher insurance premiums than men for the same insurance (known as gender rating), guaranteeing maternity coverage, and ensuring that new insurance plans cover preventive services such as mammograms and pap smears. 

The ACA is constitutional and vitally important to improving the health of American citizens, particularly women.  However, gaps in coverage for health care essential to women remain.  Most notably, the ACA allows insurers to discriminate against women by refusing to cover abortion care, and the Pennsylvania legislature is considering legislation that will ensure that insurance plans sold through the ACA’s state exchanges do not include abortion coverage except in cases of life endangerment, rape, or incest.  Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s determination that states may decline to comply with the Medicaid expansion program without risking loss of their existing Medicaid funding raises questions about whether the federal government will be able to implement the expansion effectively.  If states decline participation in Medicaid expansion, many poor individuals, many of whom are women, will be left without health coverage.  Now the focus is on Pennsylvania to ensure coverage for everyone.

For more information on the ACA and WLP’s work on access to health care, see WLP Health Care Reform and WLP’s Report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Government, Health Care, Health insurance, Maternity Coverage, Supreme Court, Women's health

The Hypocrisy of Cuts to Medicaid Reimbursements for Newborn Care

Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney

When Pennsylvania’s politicians say they are for protecting the unborn, they mean it literally: the minute you’re born, you’re on your own.

Last month, Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare (DPW), which is run by Governor Tom Corbett’s political appointees, yanked the rug out from under maternity wards state-wide by eliminating the $1,155 payment it used to make to hospitals for a newborn’s regular care when the mother is on Medical Assistance (Pennsylvania’s name for Medicaid).  DPW will continue to reimburse hospitals for the mother’s care, but it will no longer reimburse hospitals for the baby’s care unless the baby develops complications or needs to stay longer than normal for observation.

Nearly half of all births in Pennsylvania are paid for by Medical Assistance, so the reimbursement cuts will significantly impact hospitals across the state that provide maternity care, forcing them to absorb even more of the cost for the services they provide to pregnant women and their babies. Even prior to these cuts, hospitals typically lost money on Medicaid deliveries. One community hospital reported that every Medical Assistance delivery costs the hospital between $7,800 and $8,400, while the Medicaid reimbursement prior to May 1st was a mere $6,867 for both mother and baby. Now it is just $5,712.

Large hospitals that also serve many privately-insured mothers might be able to spread the loss among other deliveries, or even among other departments in the hospital. However, independent community hospitals that already have trouble breaking even will face greater financial difficulties.  As a result, they may have to close their maternity wards and lay off employees, making it even harder for Pennsylvania’s pregnant women to receive maternity care within a reasonable distance from their homes. Already, as the Women’s Law Project explores in our recent publication, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women, many women in Pennsylvania, particularly if they are poor, have few options when choosing obstetrical providers. For these women, the result of the shrinking number of obstetrical providers that accept Medical Assistance is a delay or a denial in receiving prenatal care, medical care that is important for the health of pregnant women and their babies. DPW’s cuts to hospital reimbursements will only exacerbate an already dire situation for women who receive Medicaid.

DPW’s decision to cut hospital reimbursements for newborn care is another example of how misguided Governor Corbett’s administration is on issues relating to women’s and children’s health.  The governor pressed for controversial legislation that would mandate women undergo medically-unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds prior to receiving abortions, justifying the bill by claiming these women can just “close their eyes,” but his administration will not even use a combination of federal and state funds to pay for the medical assessments and procedures newborn babies need in the crucial first 72 hours after they are born.

If Governor Corbett and DPW truly believed in the sanctity of life, they would promote policies that help women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Their hypocrisy couldn’t be more apparent than in cutting maternity reimbursements for the care of newborn babies.

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Filed under Health Care, Maternity Coverage, PA Law, Pennsylvania, Pregnancy, Uncategorized, Women's health

White House Holds Town Hall on Women’s Health

Molly Cohen, WLP Intern

With the Supreme Court’s ruling on the 2010 Affordable Care Act looming on the horizon, the White House recently held a town hall meeting on Women’s Health to tout the benefits of the Act. Panel members included Valerie Jarrett (Senior Advisor to the President and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls), Kathleen Sebelius (Secretary of Health and Human Services), Judy Waxman (Vice President of the National Women’s Law Center), Mayra Alvarez (Director of Public Health Policy in the Office of Health Reform, HHS), and other female leaders in Washington. The White House promoted the event as “an interactive, open dialogue about how the health care law, the Affordable Care Act, is improving the health of women and their families” and encouraged viewers to submit questions via Twitter and Facebook.

Secretary Sebelius spoke frankly about the discrimination women experience throughout the healthcare system. As our recent report, Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women also illustrates, women are regularly denied coverage if they have ever had breast cancer, cervical cancer, a cesarean section, or medical treatment for injuries resulting from domestic violence or sexual assault.

Those who do qualify for coverage are subject to a practice known as “gender rating,” in which women pay substantially higher premiums than men of the same age. In fact, a Pennsylvania study found that some insurance companies charge higher premiums to non-smoking women than male smokers of the same age. At the White House town hall, Sebelius remarked, “Now let’s say you were lucky and healthy. Even then, insurers could charge women up to fifty percent more than men just for being a woman. Essentially, this meant that being a woman was, in itself, a pre-existing condition.”

The ACA, if fully implemented, will make gender rating and the practice of withholding coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition illegal in the individual and small group markets. The Act also greatly expands the range of preventive care covered by insurance. Section 1001, for example, requires new health insurance plans to offer all screenings and services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, free of charge to the patient. This includes regular mammograms for women over 40 and screenings for cervical cancer. Section 1302 includes maternal and newborn care in the list of “essential health benefits” new policies must cover, beginning January 2014. Women will no longer have to pay co-pays on prenatal visits, folic acid supplements, consultations with lactation specialists, or screenings for conditions such as gestational diabetes and anemia.

Secretary Sebelius explained that by making preventative care measures more affordable, the ACA seeks to eradicate existing inequalities. Currently, African American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than any other group, while Latinas have the highest rates of cervical cancer.  Under the current healthcare system, low-income women, especially those without insurance, are forced to delay seeking medical care because of the financial burden of doctors’ visits. They are therefore more likely to receive inadequate care and to die prematurely.

While a recent report found that the number of uninsured young Americans is on the decline, any progress made under the ACA is shadowed by the uncertainty surrounding the upcoming Supreme Court decision. If the White House’s worst-case scenario is realized and the Court strikes down the ACA in its entirety? Sebelius warned this outcome would have a “pretty cataclysmic impact.” In a blog issued after the town hall on Women’s Health, she stated:

“…for women, the law means peace of mind. Peace of mind that no matter their circumstance there will be a health system that works for them and cares about their needs. That’s what the law is all about.”

If you want to know more about the link between sex bias and adverse health effects in women, please read our new report Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women. The Affordable Care Act is an important step for women in Pennsylvania and throughout the country.

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Filed under Health Care, Health insurance, Maternity Coverage, Supreme Court, Women's health

New Studies Clarify Function of the Morning After Pill

Molly Duerig, WLP Undergraduate Intern

The New York Times published an article yesterday clarifying the uncertainties that surround the functionality of emergency contraceptive methods such as Plan B One Step. Cited in the article were a number of research studies, conducted by leading scientists in the years since Plan B’s approval in 1999, proving that the “morning-after” pill functions by delaying a woman’s ovulation—which occurs before her eggs are ever fertilized by a man’s sperm.

This result contradicts the current F.D.A. labeling found on morning-after pills, which implies that the drug blocks already fertilized eggs from implanting themselves in a woman’s uterus. Many opponents to abortion take issue with the drug because they believe a fertilized egg to be equivalent to a human being’s life. But many of those opponents should re-evaluate and alter their opinions on emergency contraceptive care, especially after the NY Times’ revelation of these results to the masses.

We discussed the morning-after pill’s role as emergency contraception (EC) in the reproductive health section of our report Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women. The report states that “because it does not end a pregnancy but only prevents one, EC is not a form of abortion.  Rather, EC prevents abortions because it prevents unwanted pregnancies” (181). Emergency contraception like Plan B is an essential component of women’s reproductive and over-all health.

Earlier this year, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics issued an official statement saying that pills with Plan B’s active ingredient (levonorgestrel) do not inhibit implantation. In the NY Times article, writer Pam Belluck cites the results of a number of studies conducted in recent years that contributed to that decision:

“In 2007, 2009 and 2010, researchers in Australia and Chile gave Plan B to women after determining with hormone tests which women had ovulated and which had not. None who took the drug before ovulation became pregnant, underscoring how Plan B delays ovulation. Women who had ovulated became pregnant at the same rate as if they had taken no drug at all. In those cases, there were no difficulties with implantation…”

The fact that morning-after pills do not inhibit implantation actually decreases their effectiveness as methods of emergency contraceptive care. Furthermore, the pills’ role to delay ovulation and prevent an egg from ever becoming fertilized proves it does not function as a method of abortion. This demonstrates not only the value, but the safety of the pill.

The Women’s Law Project has blogged before about the safety and worth of making emergency contraception available to women of any age, without requiring a prescription. In a post published in December of 2011, the WLP noted that “when our country faces approximately 3.1 million unintended pregnancies each year, unrestricted access to safe and effective contraception is vital.” The findings revealed by the studies mentioned in the NY Times piece further prove why access to emergency contraceptive care is so important.

It’s wonderful that the truth about the safety and functionality of morning-after pills is becoming widely known. However, it’s discouraging that the F.D.A. still refuses to alter the scientifically unfounded labeling of these pills as inhibitors to uterine implantation.

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Filed under Contraception, Health Care, Reproductive Rights, The New York Times, Women's health

Women’s Law Project Releases Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women

The Women’s Law Project (WLP) released today a major report, Through the Lens of Equality: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women, linking sex bias to adverse health outcomes in women.   The release of this report coincides with National Women’s Health Week (May 13-19th), during which time organizations around the country are raising awareness about the benefits of the health care law.

Inspired by the public debate on health care, WLP embarked on an examination of the relationship between the sex bias that women experience and their health, resulting in the publication of Through the Lens of Equality.  “As familiar as we were with ongoing bias and discrimination against women and with data on critical health measures for women, our in-depth examination of the linkage between the two truly shocked us,” said Carol Tracy, Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project.  “The focus is on Pennsylvania, however, the finding and recommendations have nationwide application,” she added.

“For all of the years that I have been involved in women’s rights and women’s health care, I have never seen the connections between health and equality more dramatically demonstrated that it is in this report,” said Kate Michelman, former President of NARAL Pro-Choice America and long-time Pennsylvania resident who served as a consultant to this project.

Through the Lens of Equality examines the health impact of sexual and intimate partner violence, caregiving responsibilities, poverty, and bias in the workplace, school, and health care.  The report delves into the politicization of women’s reproductive health care and shows how women are harmed by limited access to abortion, contraception, and maternity care.  It repeatedly points to the importance of implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) to expand access to better health care for women, while acknowledging the ACA’s serious gaps, including not mandating abortion coverage.

“This is not a publication about diseases, but instead an exposition of how biased environments in which women live, work, study, and receive health services are infected with outdated notions about women’s role in society which in turn have negative health consequences for them,” said Amal Bass, staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project.

The publication also provides a series of recommendations tailored to both overcoming sex bias and improving women’s health.  “Numerous targeted interventions well beyond improving access to insurance through the ACA — are necessary to cure institutional and individual prejudices about women,” said Terry Fromson, Managing Attorney of the WLP.  “Failure to do so will result in significant inequitable and avoidable health problems for women,” she added.

Through the Lens of Equality acknowledges the impressive strides that have been made in women’s rights over the past fifty years, but shows that past victories are not enough.  “Looking to the future requires insistence on equal treatment, equal access, and equal opportunity to achieve not just healthy women, but a healthy society,” said Susan Frietsche, Senior Staff Attorney

The Women’s Law Project is a legal advocacy organization based in Pennsylvania.  Founded   in 1974, its mission is to create a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives.  The Law Project engages in high impact litigation, public policy advocacy and community education.   Through the Lens of Equality is available at http://www.womenslawproject.org/NewPages/wkTLE_Base.html.

 

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Filed under Domestic violence, Economic Justice, Education, Employment, Equality, Family Planning, Family Violence, Gender Discrimination, Health Care, Reproductive Rights, Sex Discrimination, Sexual Assault, Sexual harassment, Violence Against Women, Women's health

Wrong Women Urged to be tested for Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women but “causes more deaths than any other type female reproductive cancer.” The high fatality rate of ovarian cancer is partially due to the fact that it is difficult to diagnose. Ovarian cancer “is usually quite advanced by the time diagnosis is made.” Unfortunately, a recent study revealed that doctors often neglect to refer women at a high risk for developing the disease to an ovarian cancer screening. Indeed, 60% of physicians surveyed would not recommend testing for a woman at high risk for developing ovarian cancer. 

While many high-risk women are not screened for ovarian cancer, far too many women at only an average risk of developing ovarian cancer are screened. Additionally, the study found that 30% of doctors in the study would refer a woman with an average risk of developing ovarian cancer to screening. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) “a federally-supported expert panel, advises against routine counseling and testing for women who don’t have suspicious cases of cancer in their family, such as two close relatives with breast cancer, one of whom got it before age 50.” It is unwise to submit a woman at only an average risk of developing ovarian cancer to testing because the tests themselves may be harmful to her health. Also, unnecessary testing will put a strain on the healthcare system.

Jacqueline Miller at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who worked on the study, told the Los Angeles Times that only 1 in 300 women carry the gene mutations which put one at an increased risk for developing breast and ovarian cancers. Since the mutations are so rare, if women at average risk for developing ovarian cancer were routinely screened, “‘you would be over-testing a lot of women, spending a lot of resources and a lot of money.’” She added that it is possible that over-testing would cause “some false alarms as well, exposing women to unnecessary treatment and other harms…‘For a lot of women, just going through the test creates a lot of anxiety,’ she said.”

Miller stated that “The most important lesson from the new findings are to make sure that women at high risk are identified so they can get the right counseling.” However, she advises “that women should never agree to get tested without knowing the reasons. ‘You should have that conversation with your provider: why do you feel I’m at high risk? If a physician tells you you should get genetic counseling, you should understand why.’” To learn more about ovarian cancer and the research that is being done to combat it, click here.

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Filed under Women's health

Study: Maternity Leave Important for Health of Mother and Child

As reported in the health section of Time, a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research revealed that a short maternity leave has negative health outcomes for both mother and child. Mothers of 3-month-old infants who worked full-time “reported feeling greater rates of depression, stress, poor health and overall family stress than mothers who were able to stay home (either because they didn’t have a job or because they were on maternity leave).”

Not only do these health problems affect the mother, but her baby also suffers from a short maternity leave. The study’s authors cited “numerous studies [which] show that clinical depression in mothers as well as self-reported depressive symptoms, anxiety, and psychological distress, are important risk factors for adverse emotional and cognitive outcomes in their children, particularly during the first few years of life.”

Interestingly, the study also found that it is only when the mother has to go back to work too quickly that her health and the health of her child suffers. Indeed, the study found that “in the long run, working actually decreased moms’ depression and stress.” The key to a healthy mother and child seems to be not necessarily staying out of the workforce entirely, but rather having the time to transition back to full-time work. The study found that

After 4.5 years, many of the mothers [who participated in the study] had transitioned back into the workplace, learning to balance competing demands on their time between family and work. The transition isn’t easy, but the key seems to be having enough time to settle into a new life as both parent and professional. That’s why maternity leave is so important– it’s a time entirely devoted to transitioning to the parental role..

Unfortunately, despite evidence that maternity leave is a vital component of ensuring the health of mothers and their children, the United States does not have any laws guaranteeing paid leave for new mothers or fathers. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees with new children or ill family members to take leave from their job, but it only ensures unpaid leave and only for twelve weeks. Not only that, but many women aren’t covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, since it doesn’t apply to the more than 50% of workers who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees or who work fewer than 1,250 hours in the past year.

The US is behind many other countries in guaranteeing parents time with their newborns. The Huffington Post reported that 178 countries have national laws guaranteeing paid leave for new mothers, and more than 50 nations, including most Western countries, also guarantee paid leave for new fathers.

To find out more about how the United States’ parental leave policy compares to those in other nations, click here.

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Filed under Childbirth, Employment, Health insurance, Parenthood, Pregnancy