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Historic reforms in health care will help women

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Dr. Doug Laube
November 23, 2009

Ten years ago, the Centers for Disease Control listed the top 10 achievements of public health in the 20th century—among them, family planning, control of infectious disease and vaccinations. These achievements vastly improved our quality of life, resulting in an increase in life expectancy, worldwide reduction in infant and child mortality, and the elimination or reduction of many communicable diseases.


America is now poised for the first dramatic public health achievement of the 21st century. What makes this moment truly life-changing is that, for the first time, more women and their families will have coverage than ever before.


However, if a new national health plan is to correct our fragmented health system and improve America’s health, it must address the specific needs of women. That’s why earlier this year, I and a group of medical and public health colleagues contributed to a scientific, data-driven report stating that reproductive health should be an essential part of any national health plan. Our statement was endorsed by 39 deans of schools of public health.


According to the report, issued under the aegis of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, “a well-woman standard of care—one that includes access to comprehensive care and services essential to reproductive health—will ensure that women can attain good health, maintain it through their reproductive years and age well.”


Put simply: without making women’s reproductive health a central component of health care reform, we will not have real reform.


The scientific data point to the compelling need to improve the reproductive health of all Americans. Rates of maternal and infant mortality, low birth weight, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections are much too high for a nation that is rich in resources and technical competence. Moreover, health problems are concentrated among disadvantaged groups, and these disparate rates have stagnated or worsened over the past three decades.


The good news is that the proposals being considered in the House and Senate contain many of the critical elements that will help us address these problems. For the first time, women will be able to participate in a health care system in which:


--Maternity and reproductive health will be part of a basic care package.


--Women won’t be charged more because of their gender.


--An affordability provision will subsidize those who can’t afford insurance.


--Out-of-pocket costs will be capped so families don’t go bankrupt.


--No American can be denied health coverage because of a pre-existing medical condition, including breast cancer, pregnancy or evidence of “uninsurability” such as being a victim of domestic violence.


--Key preventative tests, such as mammograms and pap smears, will be included in basic care.


Health care reform is not about politics—it is about shaping the future. But in order to bring about that future, we must show what’s at stake and why it’s in everyone’s interest to demand coverage that recognizes women’s basic needs and is truly health care, not just sick care.


Dr. Doug Laube is professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UW-Madison and past president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. He can be reached at (608) 287-2494. This column is distributed by the Wisconsin Forum, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, educational organization that provides the media with the views of state experts on major public concerns in order to stimulate informed discussion.

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