Women More Likely to Skip Healthcare Because of Costs

Janice Simmons, for HealthLeaders Media, May 14, 2009

Women were found to be more likely than men to face difficulties getting necessary care because they cannot afford it.

In fact, about half (52%) of working age women, compared with 39% of men, reported a variety of problems, such as not being able to fill prescriptions, visit physicians or specialists, or get medical tests, according to a new study from the Commonwealth Fund.

In the study, "Women at Risk: Why Many Women Are Forgoing Needed Health Care," the researchers found that seven of 10 working age women have no health insurance coverage or inadequate coverage, medical bill or debt problems, or problems getting needed healthcare because of cost.

Overall, many women could find themselves "much sicker and in greater need of healthcare services in the future," the researchers said. “Therefore, health reform policies that would expand access to affordable, high quality coverage are critical—for women and men, and the families they care for," according to the study.

Because women are more likely to use healthcare services than men, they were more likely to be exposed to the fragmentation and weaknesses of the current healthcare delivery system, the researchers said.

Those women who were insured—but had inadequate coverage—appeared to be especially vulnerable: 69% of the underinsured women had problems accessing care because of costs, compared with half (49%) of underinsured men. Women also felt the impact more of high healthcare costs because they had lower average incomes and used the healthcare system more often—therefore facing higher out of pocket health costs than men.

Because of high healthcare costs, women and their families are more likely to be faced with making tough choices between obtaining healthcare and buying everyday necessities or making payments on mortgages or credit card debt.

The researchers say the study understates the current scope of this problem, because it is based on data from the Commonwealth Fund's 2007 Biennial Health Insurance Survey. The current economic climate has led to greater unemployment and greater loss of insurance coverage, they said.

Janice Simmons is a senior editor and Washington, DC, correspondent for HealthLeaders Media Online. She can be reached at jsimmons@healthleadersmedia.com.

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