When political control changed hands in Washington, D.C., earlier this year, public policy wheels started churning according to the Biden Administration's priorities, and women's health issues are now getting some much needed attention. Read on for our roundup of recent women's health policy developments and research findings.
1. HealthyWomen Advocates for New Pain Treatments at the FDA
Monica Mallampalli, Ph.D., HealthyWomen's senior scientific advisor, provided testimony at the FDA's joint meeting of the Arthritis Advisory Committee and the Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee Meeting in late March 2021. The meeting was to review a potential osteoarthritis drug that could provide the first new osteoarthritis treatment in more than a decade. HealthyWomen supports expanding access to nonaddictive treatment for chronic pain, which affects more than 20% of women in the United States. Osteoarthritis is one cause of chronic pain. Though it affects Black and Chinese women at higher rates than white women, women of color are less likely to receive adequate pain treatment, if they get any at all. Though the FDA panel voted 19 to one against approving the drug, citing rare side effects and questions about long-term safety, HealthyWomen will continue to stand up for the health needs of women and advocate for nonaddictive pain treatments.
2. A New Study Confirms That Women's Pain Is Underestimated
A new study published in the Journal of Pain confirmed what many already know: Women's pain is underestimated. Research participants rated the pain of male and female subjects on video clips. Participants consistently underestimated women's pain and judged women more likely to benefit from psychotherapy over pain medicine. The problem is worse for women of color.
3. Maternal Health Disparities Take Center Stage During Black Maternal Health Week
HealthyWomen was proud to support Black Maternal Health Week (BMHW) this April 11 through 17 to help bring national attention to racial disparities in maternal health. In the U.S., Black women are three times more likely to die as a result of pregnancy-related causes than white women, according to the CDC. On April 13, President Biden also formally recognized BMHW, the first-ever presidential recognition. As a senator, Vice President Kamala Harris co-sponsored the first BMHW resolution in 2018.
4. More Women Are Vaccinated Against Covid-19 Than Men
On April 14, 2021, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 50% of adult women had gotten at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine compared with 44% of men. Vaccine hesitancy does not explain the difference, as just under 16% of men and women reported vaccine hesitation. Relevant factors may include access to the vaccine — which is higher for healthcare workers (three-quarters of whom are women) and older people (disproportionately women). Women, more often in caregiving roles, may also have a greater inclination to seek preventive care.
5. New Data Show Covid-19 Vaccines Are Safe for Pregnant Women
The mRNA Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are safe and effective for pregnant women, according to a study published this month. Covid-19 antibodies were found in umbilical cord blood and breast milk, indicating that babies born to vaccinated mothers can also benefit from the vaccines. Earlier this year, Pfizer and BioNTech launched a large clinical trial with approximately 4,000 healthy pregnant women ages 18 and older to study the safety, tolerability and efficacy of the vaccine.
6. President Biden's $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Could Bolster Telehealth Access
On March 31, 2021, President Biden announced a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, called the American Jobs Plan. The proposal allocates $100 billion to expanding high-speed internet and ensuring broadband access in underserved urban and rural areas. One-third of people living in rural areas don't have access to broadband internet, which limits their access to video telehealth visits. Before this investment can be made, though, the bill has to pass both houses of Congress.
7. Marketplace Insurance Enrollments Continue to Climb
Healthcare.gov is open for business thanks to a presidential executive order signed earlier this year. By the end of March, 528,000 people had enrolled in health insurance through the marketplace. Millions of Americans may qualify for new or expanded subsidies to reduce the cost of coverage. To spread the word about affordable insurance options, the U.S. Department of Health and Human services launched a $50 million ad campaign, on top of $50 million that The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Service (CMS) had previously committed. The health insurance marketplace will stay open through August 15, 2021. If you need health insurance or to check if you qualify for subsidies, visit Healthcare.gov.
8. Illinois Is Set to Expand Postpartum Insurance Coverage for Women With Low Incomes
Starting April 11, 2021 — the first day of Black Maternal Health Week — Illinois women with Medicaid can keep their health insurance coverage continuously, for up to a year after they give birth. Illinois is the first state to expand postpartum coverage enabled by the recently enacted American Rescue Plan. In announcing CMS's approval of this coverage expansion, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra noted that 52% of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S. take place up to one year postpartum, and more than half of pregnant women on Medicaid had a gap in insurance coverage within six months of giving birth.
9. New Data Show That Sexually Transmitted Diseases Have Reached an All-Time High
According to newly released data from the CDC, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) reached an all-time high in 2019 for the sixth year in a row. In 2019, 2.5 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis were reported — a nearly 30% increase since 2015. Untreated STDs can cause health problems, raise other infection risks, and lead to pregnancy complications and infant mortality. People of color were more likely to have an STD than white people. Telehealth or express clinics could help close testing and treatment gaps that have worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic.
10. Biden Requests Nearly $11 Billion to End the Opioid Epidemic
President Biden released his first budget request to Congress, highlighting his healthcare priorities. The proposed budget includes $10.7 billion to help end the opioid epidemic, including funds for research, prevention and treatment and recovery services.