Women Hurt By Health Care Costs

Millions of American women cannot afford to go to the doctor or get their drug prescriptions filled, according to a study released Thursday.

“A sizeable share of women are falling through the cracks, either because they don’t have insurance or even with insurance can’t afford to pay for medical care or prescription drugs,” said Alina Salganicoff, director of women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, sponsor of the study.

Latina women are the least likely U.S. women to have a regular doctor, with one in three saying they have delayed or skipped care because of cost, the study said.

Salganicoff said that the growth in health-care costs has become a central women’s health issue. She said that poor women, working at low-paying jobs to support their families, are less likely than more affluent women to seek medical care.

The Kaiser report said that as health care costs have grown, some 27 percent of non-elderly women and 67 percent of uninsured women say they decided not to seek health care they believed they need. The percentages, taken on a survey conducted last summer, were higher than percentages in a comparable survey in 2001.

A federal official said the drop in health-care usage coincides with a government policy that encourages the shifting of health-care costs from insurers to individuals.

People will cut their use of health services if they have to pay out of pocket, said Carolyn Clancy, director of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Clancy said there is “growing concern” among doctors that women are cutting back on mammograms. The study said that mammography rates fell from 73 percent in 2001 to 69 percent in 2004. Some 40 percent of uninsured women older than 40 had a mammogram in the past year, compared to about 75 percent of women on Medicare and with private insurance coverage.

Pap test rates among women aged 18 to 64 also fell from 81 percent in 2001 to 76 percent in 2004, according to the Kaiser report.

Some 38 percent of women 50 and older said they have had a colon cancer screening test in the past two years and 37 percent of women 45 and older said they received a test for osteoporosis in the same period.

The survey said that women are more likely than men to use a prescription drug on a regular basis, but are also more likely to report difficulties in affording the medication.

The Kaiser report was based on interviews of 2,766 women by Princeton Survey Research Associates and the University of California at Los Angeles.

A separate report said that higher prices for health services such as prescription drugs, hospital stays and doctor visits are the major reason why Americans spend far more for health care than citizens in other industrialized nations.

“There is a popular misconception that we pay much more for health care in the United States compared to European and other industrialized countries because malpractice claims drive up costs and there are waiting lists in most other countries,” Gerald Anderson, a health policy professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in the journal Health Affairs.

“What we have found is that we pay more for health care for the simple reason that prices for health services are significantly higher in the United States than they are elsewhere,” Anderson said. “We have less access to most health services and higher costs associated with malpractice insurance have only a marginal effect on overall health spending.”

The Society for Women’s Health Research announced Thursday that women’s fear of heart disease has almost doubled since 2002, but that breast cancer remains the single most feared disease. It said that fear of AIDS and HIV has declined.