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NATIONAL NEWS | spring 2009

The Right to Good Health
To some, it’s a moral imperative; to others, it’s an important path out of the economic crisis. To all, health-care reform is a notion whose time has come now.

By DELTHIA RICKS

Melanie Victor-Taylor waxes nostalgic about “the good old days” when she had a full-time job as an administrative assistant at a major university in Southern California. But an unexpected staff layoff two years ago set the 53-year-old on an odyssey of job searches that have mostly turned up empty. The temp world comes with few guarantees and no benefits.

And that has meant that, since losing her job, Victor-Taylor has not seen a physician for any reason. Whatever reforms are made in health delivery, the change will have a profound impact on women, who as a group spend more on medical care than their male counterparts, explains Dr. Steffie Woolhandler, a veteran advocate for health-care reform.

“Women [seek] more routine health care than men,” she says. “There are Pap smears, maternity care and mammograms. Women will pay about $1,000 a year more than the average healthy man, although it levels out as people get into their 60s and 70s. But the co-payments and deductibles really do penalize women,” Woolhandler says, because of lower earnings and more frequent use of routine health-care services.

“When I came to Congress, women’s health care wasn’t a national priority,” says Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who was first elected to the House in 1976 and won a Senate seat 10 years later. “There was that famous aspirin study—10,000 men were included in clinical trials, and not one woman,” she says, remembering research two decades ago that laid the foundation for heart-attack prevention.  Even though the study involved only men, its results were automatically considered applicable to both genders.

President Obama is specific about what he wants to create: a health-care system that is streamlined throughout, incorporates electronic databases for medical records and drug prescribing, emphasizes prevention and eliminates the use of emergency rooms for primary care. The centerpiece of the system is affordable access for everybody. That strikes a note of optimism for Victor-Taylor. “The main reason I am looking for a job is to have health-care benefits,” she says.

Unless reform happens now, adds Julie Pinkham, executive director of the Massachusetts Nurses Association, America will have failed its citizens on the most important aspect of life: the right to good health. Pleased that healthcare reform has garnered a bright spotlight, Pinkham warns, “Now it’s up to our generation, and if we can’t figure it out we really should be embarrassed.”

Excerpted from the Spring 2009 issue of Ms. - join the ms. community at www.msmagazine.com.

DELTHIA RICKS is a staff writer for Newsday specializing in health and science issues.