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Report: State of Women's Health Poor Nationwide

By Sasha Bartolf, CQ Staff

October 17, 2007 -- The health of women in America is unsatisfactory, and compared with three years ago, it's growing worse, according to the latest "report card" on women's health released Wednesday by the National Women's Law Center (NWLC).

The 2007 edition of "Making the Grade on Women's Health: A National and State-by-State Report Card," which measured 27 benchmarks, found that the United States now fails to meet 12 of the benchmarks, three more than it did not meet in 2004. Two benchmarks—reducing obesity and providing Pap smears to women age 18 and up—were met in 2004, but are no longer met by any state, according the analysis.

The report is a project of the NWLC and Oregon Health and Science University and assesses women's health in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia by using health benchmarks designated by the Department of Health and Human Services' "Healthy People 2010" agenda.

The report found that no individual states received an overall grade of satisfactory for the health care services they provided to women. Vermont, Minnesota and Massachusetts met the most benchmarks, while Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana met the fewest.

"The outlook for women's health is nowhere near approaching the nation's goals for 2010 set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People initiative," said Dr. Michelle Berlin, associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University. "The nation barely improved since our last report . . . Failing to meet these goals undermines not only the health and well-being of women, but the well-being of our country as well."

Categories where benchmarks varied significantly according to racial make-up were the percentage of women receiving prenatal care, the rate of infant mortality, and the percentage of women without health insurance. While the percentage of women receiving first trimester prenatal care improved by almost 5 percent in 2007, the rate still remains unsatisfactory, the report noted. In addition, differences in race among women receiving prenatal care varied significantly: while 85.7 percent of white women receive prenatal care, only 70.8 percent of American Indian/Alaska Natives, 75.9 percent of blacks, and 77.5 percent of Hispanics receive prenatal care as well, according to the analysis.

The report found that the infant mortality rate for black women is considerably higher than that of white women. While the overall rate of infant mortality remains unchanged since 2004, black women have an infant mortality rate of 13.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. Hispanic women have a rate of 5.6 deaths out of 1,000 births, and white woman have an infant mortality rate of 5.7 deaths, also out of 1,000 births, according to the report. In addition, the report found that the rate of breast cancer for black women also is higher than that of all other races.

The national percentage of women who lack health insurance increased by 1.7 percent, the analysis found. Meanwhile, the rate of uninsured American Indian/Alaska Native women is more than double that of white women without insurance, the analysis noted. According the report, 22.7 percent of black women are uninsured and 37.8 percent of Hispanic women are uninsured, compared with 16.9 percent of white women.

The report also found a drop in the number of states that do not have certain reproductive health access policies, such as parental consent and notification requirements for minors, or waiting periods and funding restrictions for abortion procedures. In 2001, 19 states did not have parental notification policies; that number fell to 15 in 2007, the report found. In addition, 27 states in 2007 do not require waiting periods for abortions, down from 31 states in 2004 and 35 states in 2001, according to the report. Meanwhile, the number of states that provide public funds for safe abortion procedures for women who could not otherwise afford them has remained the constant the last six years.

The percentage of women who are obese increased in all 51 states, the only benchmark on which every state's performance dropped.

While the most improved benchmarks among states were death rates for stroke and coronary heart disease, the United States still received an overall "F" grade in both indicators because so much improvement is still needed, the report stated.

"It's nothing to cheer when only a handful of states are meeting at least half of the policy goals," said Judy Waxman, vice president for Health and Reproductive Rights for NWLC. "It is evident that our health system needs mending. Lawmakers must take a comprehensive, long-term approach to meeting women's health needs."

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