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For society's sake, moms-to-be need greater access to care WELLNESS >>
When women lack health insurance, whole family can suffer

 Regular checkups, beginning when a woman is pregnant, can help children and their families stay healthier for life.
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Date published: 6/15/2008

Forty-seven million Americans are uninsured, and the number who are underinsured increased by 60 percent between 2003 and 2006. Anyone who has been paying any attention knows that our health care system is in trouble, with costs rising and access diminishing.

But did you know that women of childbearing age may be among those most at risk? Approximately 18 percent of all Americans younger than 65 years of age have no health insurance. For women between the ages of 15 and 44, the figure is a bit higher: greater than 20 percent--about 17 million women of childbearing age--are without insurance. And 13 percent of pregnant women are uninsured.

This poses a number of problems for women specifically and our society in general. Women without insurance are more likely than those who have it to forego important screening tests and exams like Pap smears and breast examinations, which can detect cervical and breast cancers.

As a result, uninsured women are more likely to be diagnosed with diseases later in their course, when they are harder to treat.

For an uninsured pregnant woman, the consequences of not getting appropriate medical care can extend beyond her to affect her whole family.

If a woman lacks insurance and becomes pregnant, then she's less likely to receive prenatal care, putting herself and her child at risk. This could result in long-term and even lifetime consequences for the child.

RISKS FOR CHILDREN

Without prenatal care, serious conditions like gestational diabetes may go undetected. Uninsured pregnant women might not get the counseling they need to eat well or stop smoking. And babies whose mothers do not receive prenatal care are more likely to be born at a low birth weight, which increases their risks of suffering lasting problems.

Another problem with not being insured is that women are often the health care decision makers for their families. If women lack adequate access to care, then there's a good chance that their families will, too.

In the push for universal coverage, guaranteed access to care for women is a good place to start.

A MAJOR STEP


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Dr. Arlene Lewis is a gynecologist in private practice at Thrive! Health and Wellness Center for Women in Fredericksburg.