Uninsured U.S. women more likely to struggle with medical bills and go without needed care

Published on July 16, 2012 at 12:45 AM · No Comments

Twenty percent of U.S. women (18.7 million) ages 19-64 were uninsured in 2010, up from 15 percent (12.8 million) in 2000, according to a new Commonwealth Fund report on women's health care. An additional 16.7 million women were underinsured in 2010, compared with 10.3 million in 2003. The report estimates that once fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act will cover nearly all women, reducing the uninsured rate among women from 20 percent to 8 percent.

"Women, particularly those in their childbearing years, are uniquely at risk for being unable to afford the care they need, having trouble with medical bills, and having high out-of-pocket costs," said Commonwealth Fund Vice President and report co-author Sara Collins. "The Affordable Care Act will ensure that U.S. women have affordable, comprehensive health insurance that covers the services they need, including maternity care. And women will no longer have to worry about being denied coverage for a preexisting condition or that they will have to pay higher premiums because of their gender or health."

In Oceans Apart: The Higher Health Costs of Women in the U.S. Compared to Other Nations, and How Reform Is Helping, Commonwealth Fund researchers examine differences in how women fare in the U.S. compared to women in 10 other countries-Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K.-all of which have universal health insurance coverage. The report finds that while uninsured women in the U.S. were most likely to face problems with medical bills and getting needed health care, even insured U.S. women were more likely to face these problems compared to women in other countries.

Major Findings:

  • Women in the U.S. said they have problems paying medical bills at double the rate of women in any of the other countries. One-fourth (26%) of women in the U.S. ages 19 - 64 had medical bill problems, compared to 13% in Australia, 12% in France, and 4 % in Germany.
  • About two of five (39%) women in the U.S. spent $1,000 or more on out-of-pocket medical costs over 2009-2010, compared to one-fourth (24%) in Switzerland, 1 percent in Sweden, and 0 percent in the U.K.
  • More than two of five (43%) women in the U.S. said that over 2009-2010 they went without recommended care, skipped seeing a doctor when they were sick, or failed to fill prescriptions because of cost, compared to 28 percent in Germany and Australia, 8 percent in the Netherlands, and 7 percent in the U.K.
  • Half (52%) of women in the U.S. said they were confident that they would be able to afford the health care they need if they became seriously ill. In contrast, nearly all women in the U.K. (91%) and three-fourths (77%) in the Netherlands and Switzerland (76%) were confident they could afford needed care.

Uninsured U.S. Women Struggle Most

When looking just at uninsured U.S. women, the report finds even more substantial differences compared to women in other countries: 51 percent of uninsured U.S. women had a problem paying medical bills and 77 percent went without needed health care due to costs, more than double the rates reported by women in other nations. Within the U.S., there are strong geographic differences when it comes to women's health insurance, with 30 percent of women in Texas uninsured, compared to only 5 percent of women in Massachusetts, which enacted a universal health insurance law in 2006 that is similar to the Affordable Care Act.

The Affordable Care Act Is Helping Women

According to the report, The Affordable Care Act is already making health insurance and needed health care more affordable and available to women:

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