Blazing a Path To Women’s Health Access

The year was 1989. As a newly minted leadership team member at a rural hospital just outside of Indianapolis, Indiana, it was there where I first learned about the barriers many women face in terms of healthcare access and treatment.

To address this issue, a Center for Women’s Health was launched by the hospital in the spring of 1998. It offered a world-class setting encompassing obstetrics, gynecology, imaging (ultrasound and mammography), and health education. 

Years later while working for a community health center in Davis, California for low-income patients, I witnessed the success of our Perinatal Program which included comprehensive prenatal and postpartum care services. It featured a set of Certified Nurse-Midwives working in conjunction with an interdisciplinary team of Physicians, Health Educators, Nutritionists, Social Workers, and Breastfeeding Specialists to provide the highest quality care for women and babies. 

Despite programs like this popping up throughout the nation, disparities in women’s healthcare continue to loom. By way of example over 700 women a year die from pregnancy-related complications each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And with race factored in, researchers discovered that these deaths were four to five times higher for black women and women of color than for white women.

Recently, a book entitled Marching Toward Coverage: How Women Can Lead The Fight For Universal Health Coverage was published offering a deep look at the American healthcare reform movement. Written by a noted expert. Written by Rosemarie Day, Founder and CEO of Day Health Strategies, the book aims to encourage women throughout the U.S. to become engaged for the purpose of encouraging political leaders to pursue better policy-making directed at women’s health. 

With over 25 years of experience in healthcare strategy and related fields, Day assists the average American in better understanding the business of national health reform, laying out a pragmatic path forward that recognizes healthcare as a fundamental human right. 

When asked what led to her decision to take up the cause of women's health, Day had this to say: 

“I’ve spent most of my life working on issues related to reducing inequality, culminating in my work on health reform.  As a breast cancer survivor and a long-time feminist, the issue of women’s health has become especially important to me.  The election of Donald Trump put so much of the progress we’ve made in health reform (and beyond!) at risk. It galvanized me to raise my voice -- to stand up and speak up louder than I’ve ever done before.”

Day notes that there are 28 million uninsured Americans with millions more unable to afford their coverage. She continues” 

“I’ve been asking myself the fundamental question: Can we, as a nation, do better? I believe we can and will—once women begin to engage collectively around this topic. I felt called to write this book and to do it in a way that brings a feminist lens to the universal healthcare debate. I want to empower more women to engage in these conversations.”  

She says her main work centers around simplifying complex policy ideas around healthcare coverage, leading to a more approachable and engaging framework. 

“I combine a personal perspective on health care issues with my professional perspective on health policy. I draw on my experience as a policy expert, strategist, and implementer, as well as a mother, daughter, and friend who has faced some challenging health issues. I offer no easy panacea but instead suggest a pragmatic path forward, one that recognizes health care as a fundamental human right, factors in the role of social determinants, and ensures coverage for all.”

Day notes that women continue to be the primary caregivers and actually make 80% of healthcare decisions at the household level. 

“In my book, I point out that this makes women the chief medical officers (CMOs) of their families. In the business world, CMOs have enormous influence and tend to wield massive purchasing power. However, as CMO of a family unit, a woman’s political and economic influence is quite limited.”

Sadly, says Day, women often treat healthcare problems as personal and struggle alone.  But she is optimistic that there’s a solution.  

“As the early feminists said, “the personal is political.” If we raise this awareness, women are perfectly poised to create and expand healthcare access using their collective power.” 

At the time of this article, many American’s are in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Asked to respond about its impact on women, Day had this to offer: 

“There is certainly a disparity in the burden women are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.  The pandemic has shown everyone that women are essential – we make up over half of the workforce deemed “essential,” including 77% of healthcare workers.”

It’s important during this time says Day to recognize the vital role that women are playing on the front-lines as healthcare workers:  

“The CDC reports that 73% of healthcare workers who have contracted coronavirus are women.  On top of all of this, our stress is through the roof with the roles we play at home:  women were already making 80% of the healthcare decisions in families, and now, as at-home caregivers, we are juggling even more, with home-schooling added to our paying jobs.”  

Day believes that this stress needs an outlet and that one of the best is political action.  

“If we combine our stress with more knowledge about the pre-existing gender disparities in healthcare coverage (e.g. women in the workforce are less likely to be eligible for health insurance through their own jobs than men are, and the coverage they are offered in female-dominated companies is less generous), we can use this to demand a more egalitarian solution:  Universal Healthcare.”

In closing when asked what three women's health policy issues in her view are the highest priority over the next 12-18 months, Day offered this: 

Access to affordable healthcare coverage

Maintaining protections for pre-existing conditions (by defending the Affordable Care Act)

Mental health access and coverage

Concludes Day: 

“And I’ll add a fourth, beyond health policy, which is that we need supports for the added burdens of caregiving, such as paid family leave and more child care and elder care solutions.” 

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