The Impact Poverty Has on Women's Health

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Date: Dec. 2017
From: Human Rights(Vol. 43, Issue 3)
Publisher: American Bar Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,942 words
Lexile Measure: 1390L

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Imagine being forced to choose between paying for necessary health care and paying for food, rent, or your child's school supplies. This is the untenable situation in which many poor women find themselves. Despite the Affordable Care Act's advancements in making health care more available and affordable for millions of women across the country, poor women still face significant challenges when it comes to getting the care they need, including abortion. Court decisions, politicians, and policies of the Trump administration are pushing poor women and families deeper into poor health, and deeper into poverty.

Women Face Higher Health Care Costs

Women need more health care, but also are more likely to be poor. Health care costs threaten their health and economic security. Women are more likely than men to require health care throughout their lives. They are more likely to have chronic conditions that require ongoing medical treatment. They are more likely, on average, to use prescription drugs. Certain mental health problems, like depression, affect twice as many women as men. Throughout their reproductive years, regardless of whether they have children, women require substantially more contact with medical providers than men their age.

This means women face more costs. Indeed, a greater share of women's income is consumed by out-of-pocket health care costs. But on average, women have lower incomes than men--in part due to pay inequities--and are more likely to live in poverty or extreme poverty than men. More than 16 million women lived in poverty in 2016; 21.4 percent of black women, 22.8 percent of Native women, 18.7 percent of Latina women, and 10.7 percent of Asian women. The poverty rate for families with children headed by women is higher than those headed by men or those headed by married couples.

This makes women particularly vulnerable to health care costs. To stay financially secure, women routinely forgo needed care. Roughly 1 in 4 women reported in 2017 that they delayed or went without care due to costs. Low-income women are also more likely to cite problems taking time off work, childcare, or transportation as reasons for not obtaining care.

When women forgo care because of cost or other barriers, they may postpone diagnosis of a serious health problem or go without needed treatment, which can leave them in poor health. Cost as a barrier can be particularly harmful to certain groups of women, like black women who are more likely than white women to be diagnosed with chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

Health care costs lead to financial insecurity. Women--especially those in low-wage jobs without schedule flexibility--may not be able to take time off to receive medical care and may lack paid sick time. They will suffer financial losses--or lose their job--if they miss work for medical treatment or illness. Women are also more likely to struggle with medical debt or bills, with 1 in 4 women reporting trouble paying medical bills in 2016, and reporting they used most of their savings or borrowed money.

Affordable Care...

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