'Midlife' Women Face Care Crisis

Posted: May 07, 1992

Women in their "midlife" years, from age 45 to 64, are twice as likely as men in the same age group to be without health insurance and to pay more for health coverage when they can get it, an advocacy group for older women said yesterday.

"As they reach their 40s and 50s and their links to the workforce weaken, many women find that health insurance becomes a precious and sometimes elusive commodity," said the report, issued by the Older Women's League, an organization formed in 1980 to focus on the social and economic concerns of older women.

"Lack of financial resources, changes in marital status and the inability to obtain decent-paying, full-time work make mid-life women especially vulnerable to a loss of health insurance coverage," it continued.

The report, "Critical Condition: Midlife and Older Women in America's Health Care System," was issued yesterday in Washington D.C. as a "Mother's Day report," said OWL executive director Joan Kuriansky.

Kuriansky said that OWL began its periodic Mother's Day campaign "to turn the concept of Mother's Day on its head.

"We want more than flowers and candy for our mothers," she said. "We want a society where we will find social and economic equality."

"We use Mother's Day as an opportunity to talk about aspects of lives of mid-life and older women. We want to see policymakers value the work we have done both at home and in the workplace throughout our lives."

The organization supports a universal health care bill that was introduced by Rep. Martin Russo, D-Ill. That bill would provide health insurance regardless of a person's age, income, health condition or employment status, said an OWL spokeswoman. The bill also has been backed by Philadelphia's congressional delegation: Bob Borski, Lucien Blackwell and Tom Foglietta.

Among findings in the new OWL report:

* Women face more illnesses, visit physicians more and take more prescription medications than men.

* 13 percent of women age 45 to 64 and 7 percent of men in that age group have no health insurance.

* 72 percent of employed mid-life men and 55 percent of employed mid-life women have health insurance based on their own employment.

* Mid-life women pay more for private insurance.

* Nearly twice as many mid-life and older women as men have health insurance coverage under Medicaid.

* Uninsured African-American women age 50 to 64 have a 35 percent greater chance of dying in the hospital than their insured counterparts. Among white women in this age group, the uninsured were 15 percent more likely than insured women to die in the hospital.

Jim Panyard, a spokesman for Independence Blue Cross in Philadelphia, said he was not aware of OWL's report.

But, in general, Panyard said, "Our position on national health insurance is that yes, there is a need to reform and reconstruct the nation's private health care delivery system. . . . It should be universal, covering everyone, affordable and portable, that is, if you change jobs, there's no break (in coverage)."

But Panyard said that Blue Cross, which pays hospital bills, was opposed to the federal government administering national insurance.

"Anyone who thinks that a government-run health care system is the answer to the current problem is suggesting that a new federal government bureaucracy is a solution," he said.

Jean Edwards, a spokeswoman for Pennsylvania Blue Shield, which pays for doctor's services, said, "We don't rate by gender. We don't discriminate by sex, age, income level or your status of employment - and a lot of insurers can't make that statement."

The Older Women's League report also said that women must rely on public insurance programs more than men and that more women than men depend on a spouse's employer-provided insurance. The report said that while minority women depend heavily on Medicaid for health coverage, it does not cover many screening services such as mammography.

Kuriansky, the OWL executive director, said the organization also is critical of medical research. Major studies on the prevention of heart disease, for example, did not include women and women were not as likely to be referred for cardiac testing, even though heart disease is the leading overall cause of death for women.

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