Four Ways The U.S. Health System Is Failing Women — And How It Can Do Better

Supermajority Education Fund

April 30, 2020

The continuing coronavirus pandemic is exposing the gaps in how the country approaches women’s healthcare, a new analysis from the Center for American Progress (CAP) reveals. While men appear to make up a disproportionate number of COVID-19 fatalities, “initial data suggest that the pandemic could exacerbate existing barriers to care that women experience,Jamille Fields Allsbrook writes. This is particularly true for “women of color, women with low incomes, women with disabilities, and women living in rural areas.”

The pandemic “certainly highlights a number of gaps in the access to coverage,” Jennifer Mishory, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, told Supermajority News. “I think we are seeing even more so, not only because there are a greater need for health services but also because a lot of people are losing their jobs [and access to employer-sponsored insurance.]”

Here are some of the ways the healthcare system can better serve those most at risk of COVID-19. 

Eliminating the fear of high medical bills: Mishory notes that free coronavirus testing and treatment is critical to containing the spread of the disease. While coronavirus testing for those who have insurance was addressed in the CARES Act, “we are waiting for the provisions around testing for uninsured folks,” she said. “Then, there is the treatment question.” Because patients fear high out-of-pocket costs for care, many are often reluctant to get treated.

Expanding Medicaid across the country: Uninsured Americans are particularly at risk of contracting the virus, as many work in grocery stores and other retail positions, child care centers, and food processing factories. When Medicaid first expanded in 2012 as part of the Affordable Care Act, “it provided a real safety net for a lot of people,” said Mishory. But because 14 states rejected expanding Medicaid at the time, and declined to do so again last year, uninsured patients in those regions who get sick have few options when it comes to getting covered. That is why Mishory and others are advocating for states to reopen the health exchanges, so that everyone who needs to purchase an insurance plan can do so.

Addressing the healthcare disparities for women of color: Expanding Medicaid and reopening the healthcare exchanges would also provide women of color — who are more likely to be uninsured — with health coverage during the pandemic. “Unaffordable health coverage, a lack of culturally competent health care, and sparse language access services, among other factors, have contributed to health inequities,” CAP’s analysis notes.

Guaranteeing a COVID-19 vaccine will be widely accessible: Once a vaccine for the coronavirus is successfully developed, it will need to be available to all to be successful. “We want to make sure that, generally, we have coverage for folks that are enrolled in public insurance and make sure that folks that are uninsured that can access the vaccines,” said Mishory. “That’s something I am hopeful Congress can act on.”