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High Health Costs Hit U.S. Women Harder

They require more care but have lower incomes, research shows

THURSDAY, April 19, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- American women are more likely than men to go without needed health care, because they can't afford it, a new report finds.

The report was released Thursday by the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation advocating for improvements to the U.S. health system, and prepared by researchers at the National Women's Law Center.

The researchers analyzed data from three national surveys. They found that women typically had greater health needs -- but lower incomes -- than men.

The report also noted that 38 percent of women are struggling with medical bills, compared with 29 percent of men.

The high cost of insurance and health care services are forcing many women to go without needed care, the researchers said. Their report found that 33 percent of insured women and 68 percent of uninsured women don't get the health care they need, because they can't afford it, compared with 23 percent of insured men and 49 percent of uninsured men.

According to the report, 16 percent of women are also underinsured (meaning they have high out-of-pocket expenses compared to their income), compared with nine percent of men.

Other factors play a role in the gender disparity in health care coverage and access differences. For example, women are more likely than men to use prescription drugs; and women are slightly more likely than men to buy coverage in the individual insurance market, which is often more expensive and less comprehensive than employer coverage.

"These findings show that comprehensive health care coverage that doesn't require high out-of-pocket costs is vital to ensuring that women get the care they need to be healthy," Sara Collins, assistant vice president for the Commonwealth Fund's Program on the Future of Health Insurance, said in a prepared statement.

"As policymakers consider health care reform initiatives, they should consider plan designs that will result in meaningful, affordable, and equitable access to health care for everyone," Collins said.

More information

The U.S. National Women's Health Information Center has more about women and health insurance.

SOURCE: Commonwealth Fund, news release, April 19, 2007
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