Uncovering the Story Left Out of Our Healthcare Discourse

Early this summer, NewMexicoWomen.Org released a report revealing that Native American women are more than twice as likely to be poor than white women in the state. The report, titled The Heart of Gender Justice, is an analysis of women’s health and economic security that couldn’t have come at a better time.

Molly Adams

As legislators debate the possibility of repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), New Mexico remains one of the most uninsured states. Prior to the passage of the ACA, women overall in New Mexico paid up to 10 percent more than men for healthcare. The state also currently ranks number one in the country in highest rate of babies born under Medicaid although that percentage dropped by ten percent after the ACA required maternity coverage, a mandate that would disappear under the Senate’s currently proposed healthcare bill.

The NMW.O study pointed to issues like an absence of resources, the accumulation of excess wealth, intergenerational trauma and violence against women as factors contributing to women of color experiencing “far worse health and economic outcomes than their white counterparts.” Participants of the study described historical trauma as a key cause of issues like gender-based violence, mental health issues, loss of breastfeeding culture and obesity and body-shaming.

Now, the state is bracing for big losses in healthcare.

“New Mexico relies heavily on Medicaid and the expansion… was helpful to our community,” Sarah Ghiorse, Program Director of NewMexicoWomen.Org, told Ms. “If the ACA is repealed and Medicaid is gutted it will be devastating for our state, especially rural communities. We will see the effects on women of color for generations.”

Using a community-based model for collecting qualitative information in the report, the all-women research team examined exactly how multiple generations can be affected by healthcare access and economic security. “We live in a state that has a very fraught history,” Fatima van Hattum, program manager of NMW.O, said. “Communities across the state are clear about the structures that reproduce poverty here. It’s shocking and surprising to me that we don’t hear about this in political discourse.”

Other specific findings of the report include that Native American women are more likely to be unemployed than their white counterparts and are only half as likely to have a personal health care provider. One-third of Native American women over 65 are diagnosed diabetic while 15 percent of their white counter parts have been diagnosed. Hispanic women are more than 25 percent less likely to be insured, although the number of insured women was 2.2 times higher in 2015 when compared to 2011, before the ACA had taken affect.

“Our area has been impacted by multiple waves of colonization,” explained Patricia Trujillo, Director of Equity and Diversity at Northern New Mexico College, who contributed to the study. “We have families with long memories who, when we remember things that happened, it’s not just 50 or 100 years ago.”






Michele Sleighel is a former Research Assistant at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She has an MA in Communication at the University of Texas in San Antonio and a BS in PR from the University of Texas in Austin and is very proud of her El Paso roots. Find her on Twitter @MicheleSleighel