The United States Capitol building

February Policy Roundup

Women's Health Policy

1. HealthyWomen supports a bill to advance research into uterine fibroids

This month, in honor of Black History Month, HealthyWomen senior policy advisor Martha Nolan published an Op-Ed in The Hill urging Congress to pass a bill that would increase funding for research and education on uterine fibroids. Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors that grow in the uterus and can cause severe pelvic pain, severe menstrual bleeding, and pregnancy complications, among other symptoms. Black women are more likely to experience fibroids. The Stephanie Tubbs Jones Uterine Fibroid Research and Education Act, named in honor of the U.S. Congresswoman who first introduced the bill 20 years ago, would improve scientific understanding of fibroids, help raise awareness about the condition and ultimately reduce disparities.

2. HealthyWomen salutes caregivers on National Caregiver Day

February 18 was National Caregivers Day. In a statement, HealthyWomen took the opportunity to recognize all those who care for others. Caregivers provide physical and emotional support and help with personal care and activities of daily living. A loved one’s illness, injury, mobility or memory issues, or other special needs can thrust family members into the role of caregiver, often without much support. HealthyWomen also recognized Gail Gibson Hunt, a champion of caregivers and founder of the National Alliance for Caregiving, who passed away this year. In Hunt’s honor, HealthyWomen urged Congress to pass legislation to provide support to caregivers, many of whom are unpaid and a majority of whom are women.

3. The CDC released new draft guidelines on opioid prescribing

The CDC published guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain in 2016. This guidance aimed to stem opioid prescribing that had led to the opioid epidemic, but it may have also cut off access to treatment for people living with chronic pain for whom opioids may be the best treatment. The CDC recently conducted a systematic review of new evidence for treatment options for chronic pain, including noninvasive and nonopioid treatment options. Kate Nicholson, executive director of the National Pain Advocacy Center and a member of HealthyWomen’s Chronic Pain Advisory Council, served on the CDC review committee.

Based on the review, the CDC updated its recommendations, rolling back some of its previously recommended restrictions on access to chronic pain treatments. The CDC is inviting public comments on its proposed updated guidance. Comments are due by April 11, 2022.

The updated recommendations come amid calls for a new cabinet-level position to address the opioid epidemic and a new estimate that opioid deaths cost the United States $1 trillion each year.

4. New analysis finds that many women lack access to contraceptive options

According to a new report by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), while state Medicaid programs cover prescription birth control methods approved by the FDA, women may still face barriers to getting the contraception of their choice. Federal rules require Medicaid to cover family planning services and supplies without copayments or other consumer costs, but many states limit access to specific drugs. For example, states may limit the quantity of medication that can be prescribed at a time, require patients to try generic products before approving brand-name drugs or require prior authorization (approval) before patients can get certain products. Most (38) states cover over-the-counter methods, such as condoms or sponges with a prescription, but few do so without a prescription. KFF also found that one in four female Medicaid enrollees ages 15 to 49 got at least one form of birth control in 2018. Rates of accessing these products varied by state, ranging from 34% in Wisconsin and just 18% in Arkansas. Learn more about access to contraceptives at the HealthyWomen online hub on contraceptives.

5. Estrogen may reduce the risk of death from Covid-19

New research revealed that women with higher levels of estrogen are at lower risk of dying from Covid-19 than others. The study showed that postmenopausal women who took hormone replacement therapy were more than 50% less likely to die from Covid-19 compared to those with natural estrogen levels. On the other hand, postmenopausal women with lower levels of estrogen as a result of breast cancer treatment were twice as likely to die from Covid-19.

6. Researchers continue to learn about Covid-19 and pregnancy

A study published this month in JAMA showed that Covid-19 during pregnancy is associated with higher risks of serious disease or maternal death. Pregnant women with Covid-19 were more likely to have bad outcomes compared to pregnant women who were not infected with the virus — 13.4% compared to 9.2%. Building on prior studies that showed Covid-19 increased the risk of stillbirths, other new data show that Covid-19 can harm the placenta, which could explain the increased risk. But scientists have also shown that the stage of pregnancy that someone becomes infected with Covid-19 may not matter. In a presentation at a virtual meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, researchers presented data that showed neither the severity of Covid-19 infection nor the progression of disease in pregnant women differs based on which trimester of pregnancy the infection occurs in.

7. New research shows the more you sleep, the less you eat

A study published this month in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that sleep and calorie intake are related. In a small study of 80 participants, the more people in the study slept, the less they ate. When adults who were overweight and slept an average of 1.2 hours more per night, they took in an average of 270 fewer calories per day.

8. February is American Heart Month

Heart disease is the number-one killer of women in the United States, but only about half of women realize it, according to the CDC. The FDA’s Office of Women’s Health (OWH) has put out a video, Getting a Beat on What Women Know About Heart Health, to help women learn the unique risks and symptoms that affect them. OWH also posted a new blog post to share tips on heart health.