United States: Women Dying for Healthcare

Under the current healthcare system, 42 million people have no healthcare coverage. The US spends more money on healthcare than any other country, yet tens of millions aren’t covered.

The failure of for-profit healthcare

So where does all the money go? To a system that is profit-driven by insurance companies that do more paperwork than healthcare.

Women in particular, and especially women of color, are most at risk under the current profit-driven healthcare system. Throughout their lives, women are forced to be dependent on jobs, male spouses, Medicaid, Medicare, and social security for healthcare. Healthcare is a basic right that must be free and accessible to all. It should not be determined by where you work, how much you make, who you are married to, or (for young people) what your parents do.

Women pay 68% more than men do for healthcare, mostly because of the lack of effective contraception coverage and greater health needs. Teenage women are more physically vulnerable to infection by sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS. Condoms and dental dams are still the only barrier method that can prevent its spread, and these contraceptives require a cooperative partner.

For women with opposite-sex partners, teen pregnancy is also a big health risk, particularly for working class women. Low-income teens comprise 73% of teen pregnancies, and most of these mothers aren’t likely to receive proper prenatal care. Prescription contraceptives are expensive and rarely covered by healthcare providers, and many women do not have insurance at all.

Inequalities between men and women in the workforce contribute to the inferior healthcare women receive. Today, women still make 74 cents for every dollar men make. Women are also more concentrated in part-time work, which often does not offer medical benefits.

Many women have to depend on male spouses for health insurance because they choose to work at home, they are involuntarily unemployed, or their employers do not provide coverage. Women of color are less likely than white women to have health coverage through their husbands, because of their spouses’ lack of coverage and because more women of color are single.

As if that’s not bad enough, even the jobs that offer health insurance don’t provide the healthcare women are entitled to. They often discriminate against women and their specific health needs. And as companies tighten their budgets, wages and healthcare are the first to get cut – with the most severe effects on women.

Women not only feel these cuts now but in retirement as well. Women have higher life expectancies than men and more healthcare needs in old age. They also spend more of their incomes on prescription drugs, which are not covered by programs such as Medicare.

Some of the most important preventative measures, such as regular physical exams and checkups, are not covered by programs like Medicare either. Physicals and checkups are particularly important for women because of the threat of breast cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for women between the ages of 20 and 59. Heart attacks are the number one cause of death in the US, and women are twice as likely as men to die within a year after a heart attack. A lack of routine checkups can literally be deadly.

It is imperative that women receive proper education on health issues that affect them, from menstruation to breast cancer. It is appalling that women still cannot receive adequate healthcare independently of their employment or marital status. We cannot allow our health to be determined by a system that clearly has more interest in profits for corporations than healthcare for people.

Only a universal healthcare system is capable of providing everyone full access to the highest quality healthcare. We need to build a mass movement to put the for-profit health insurance companies out of business and create a free, socialized medical system that provides for everyone and is accountable to everyone.

From Justice, journal of Socialist Alternative, CWI in the US.

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August 2003