Womens Health

Study: US Women's Health Gets Failing Grade

| by Toni Brayer MD

The Oregon Health and Science University has published its 5th report card since 2000 and it grades and ranks the United States on 26 health-status indicators for women. In 2010, not one state received an overall "satisfactory" grade for women's health, and just two states (Vermont and Massachusetts) received a "satisfactory-minus" grade. Overall, the nation is so far from meeting the goals set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that it receives an overall grade of "Unsatisfactory".

The National Report Card uses status indicators to assess women's health:

  • Women's Access to Health Care Services (medically under-served area, no abortion provider, no health insurance and first trimester prenatal care)
  • Wellness  (screening mammograms, colorectal cancer, pap smears, cholesterol)
  • Prevention (leisure time physical activity, obesity, eating 5 fruits and vegies/day, binge drinking, annual dental visits, smoking)
  • Key Conditions (coronary heart disease death rate, lung cancer death, stroke death, breast cancer death)
  • Chronic Conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes, AIDS, arthritis, osteoporosis)
  • Reproductive Health (chlamydia, maternal mortality, unintended pregnancies)
  • Mental Health (days mental health was not good)
  • Violence Against Women 
  • Infant Mortality Rate
  • Life Expectancy
  • Poverty
  • High School Completion
  • Wage gap

The score on these varied status indicators fluctuated depending upon which State a woman lives.  California and New Jersey ranked highest on state health policies and Idaho and South Dakota ranked last on policies.

Since the publication of the first report card in 2000, the Nation made progress on several women's health indicators including lower death rates from coronary heart disease, stroke, breast and lung cancer. Smoking declined and more women received colorectal screening.  That is good news.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) will have significant positive implications for women's health. Unfortunately most of it won't begin until 2014 when expansions in health care coverage and improvements in preventive care go into effect. Family planning services will be covered under Medicaid and smoking cessation treatment will be covered.

The ACA will also protect women from health discrimination and will not allow insurers to charge a woman more because of her gender. (Being a woman is not a pre-existing condition!). It will also ensure health services including maternity and newborn care, mental health care and preventive services.

We have a long way to go to bring this report card from unsatisfactory to an "A". At least it tells us where we are now and points the way to what is needed for women to be healthy. We cannot deny that improvements in health care policy at a federal and state level are critical to keep moving forward.

Addendum: In re-reading this post after a good night's sleep, it is important to point out that I'd rather be a woman in the USA than about 75% of the world. To understand and help women in the most oppressed parts of the world, go to Women for Women International.