February 26, 2009

American Women and the Great Recession, Part 3 of 4

Taking a cue from President Obama’s speech yesterday, this week’s posting in the series on women and the economy continues its focus on healthcare. Most of President Obama’s fireside-inspired speech which he delivered to Congress and the American public last night centered on the economy, and addressing the labor and economic needs of the 21st Century.

A significant portion of the speech however, was geared towards healthcare and the dire need to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system as a critical part of reviving the economy. President Obama pledged reform to the American people in a compelling declaration in which he said that, "Health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.” Women’s issues were not specifically named in the speech, but hopefully the focus on healthcare and the economy will do some of the greatest good for middle and lower-income women and families.

One of the areas of health services in which help is truly needed among women is family planning. According to a recent study released by the Guttmacher Institute, entitled Next Steps for America’s Family Planning Program, individuals and families are relying more heavily on Family Planning Clinics that are federally-funded under Title X, to fulfill their primary healthcare needs. The study found that six out of ten clients consider Family Planning Clinics their main source of healthcare, as they often receive other preventive services in addition to reproductive health services, such as diabetes and high blood pressure testing.

In addition, for every $1 that the federal government invests in family planning services, it nets $4 in savings over the long term, so the program actually pays for itself and serves as a cost savings-generating measure. A statement released with the report by the study’s lead author Rachel Benson Gold illuminates the essential nature of family planning services to women, families, health, and how these intersect with spending and the economy:

The national family planning program is smart government at its best […] Publicly-funded family planning is basic health care that empowers disadvantaged women to decide for themselves when to become pregnant and how many children to have. It reduces recourse to abortion. And it saves significant amounts of taxpayer money.

The report also identifies areas where Medicaid can be expanded and restrictions that impede access for states (and recipients of Medicaid as a result) can be eliminated in order to better serve women and families in need of healthcare and family planning services.

In addition to expanding Medicaid, there are many other areas where healthcare programs can be changed right away to better serve individuals and ease some of the pressures that are bearing down on women and families as a result of the economic crisis. For example, covering more uninsured individuals in the new fiscal year will save money for the U.S. over the long-term by giving people access to preventive care that can help them avoid more serious and costly health problems down the road, such as diabetes and other chronic conditions. The U.S. is expected to spend $2.4 trillion on healthcare this year, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Obama noted in his speech that 1.5 million Americans could lose their homes this year due to bankruptcy, which is often caused by massive medical expenses incurred by the under and un-insured.

By extending coverage to the uninsured, including many women and families, the government can help Americans to get a handle on their medical expenses, reduce the number of bankruptcies, stem the destabilization of housing, and provide the human right of health to millions of citizens.

For more information on the ways in which women’s health and economic policies are intimately linked in the current climate, check out the following links:

Written by Emily J. Kronenberger, Policy Analyst at the Alliance for the Betterment of Citizens with Disabilities and founder of New Wave Grrrl, a health information and resource sharing blog for women. Emily is a volunteer blogger with the Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project, serves on the Board of Trustees at the Alice Paul Institute and volunteers as the Director of Policy Initiatives at the Younger Women’s Task Force of New Jersey.

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