The gender divide: women’s healthcare in crisis

Posted by on Mar 23, 2012 in women's health | 0 comments

This one’s a hot button that keeps getting worse. And yet, there is no war on women’s healthcare. Right?!

This past Monday, the New York Times ran a piece on gender disparities in health insurance costs. The practice, also known as the “gender rating,” is acknowledged by insurers across the nation, who charge women more than men, theoretically because data demonstrate that women use healthcare services, including doctor visit and prescription drugs more than men and have a greater prevalence of chronic illnesses. Quoting Marcia Greenberger, president of the National Women’s Law Center, reporter Robert Pear writes that these disparities are questionable because they vary from insurer to insurer: “In Arkansas for example, one health plan charges 25-year-old women 81% more than men while a similar plan in the same state charges only 10% more.”

If passed, the new health care law will theoretically prevent the ‘gender rating.’ But meanwhile? According to a newly released study conducted by Medco Health Solutions and the Society for Women’s Health Research, another gender divide exists: while women use more prescription drugs than men, they are significantly less likely to be prescribed those drugs in alignment with clinical guidelines. The distinction is apparently most critical and dramatic among individuals suffering from heart disease and diabetes, where on average, women demonstrated poorer outcomes than men in 100% (25 of 25) of clinical measures. The result is that women tend not to adhere to medication as directed, and may discontinue medications shortly after starting them, possibly due to side effects, tolerance issues or unreasonable expectations about outcomes. According to the study authors, some of the reasons for the inadequate response to medication may be that women are often prescribed drugs and drug regimens (dosing etc) based on data from men.

The study, which was based on claims data from over 3o million Americans over a 12 month period in 2010, demonstrates that women particularly fall short in their use of blood glucose testing, use of cholesterol lowering medication and use of beta blockers after a heart attack. And despite recent news that would lead one to believe otherwise, use of contraceptives accounted for only 4.5% of chronic medication use, implying that where women are falling short is not only with regards to their reproductive healthcare but with regard to equally if not more critical care.

Leadership from both Medco Women’s Health and the Society note the need to pay consider the gender gap early in the drug development process so that future disparities can be avoided. But with this latest dataset, it is becoming even more apparent that we are facing imminently greater challenges when it comes to women’s health. Not only are we paying more for services but the service we are receiving is subpar.

How can we solve this crisis if the crisis is coming from within the system itself?

Gotta wonder.


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