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 urges the CDC to issue clear guidance on pneumonia vaccines
This fall, HealthyWomen submitted written comments to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) in support of making two newly approved pneumococcal vaccines — PCV20 and V114 (PCV15) — widely available to the public. HealthyWomen urged ACIP to provide clear and concise recommendations on these new pneumococcal vaccines to provide the broadest possible access. Clear recommendations and guidelines that include education on the importance and science of the vaccines will help encourage people to get important regular life-saving vaccines. Pneumococcal disease is serious: 1 million adults seek hospital-based care for pneumonia in the United States each year and 50,000 die. Though more men get pneumonia, more women die from it. Despite evidence that pneumococcal vaccines are 60% to 70% effective in preventing invasive disease in older adults and are even more effective in older women, only 69% of adults over 65 got vaccinated in 2018.
2. HealthyWomen supports the Medicare Access for Patients Rx Coalition
HealthyWomen is proud to partner with the Medicare Access for Patients Rx (MAPRx) Coalition, which encourages new and existing Medicare enrollees to compare prescription drug plans. People enrolled in Medicare can switch their prescription drug (Part D) coverage during Medicare's annual open enrollment period, which runs from October 15 through December 7, 2021, for coverage beginning January 1, 2022. The MAPRx Coalition has prepared its annual guide to open enrollment to help Medicare beneficiaries navigate the process and choose a plan that best meets their needs.
3. Sexual assault can have lasting brain health impacts, according to new research
Sexual assault can have long-term effects on brain health, according to a new study presented at the North American Menopause Society's annual meeting in September 2021. The study found that women who had traumatic experiences were more likely to have early markers for dementia, stroke and other brain disorders. Nearly one-quarter of women in the study had experienced sexual assault, which was significantly associated with the presence of these early markers for brain disease.
4. HPV infection in pregnant women is associated with increased risk of preterm birth
A JAMA Network Open study published in September 2021 showed that pregnant women infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) were more likely to experience preterm birth, defined as a live birth or stillbirth between 20 and just under 37 weeks of gestation. The study authors encourage further research with larger and more diverse populations, but the results suggest that HPV vaccinations could help reduce preterm births.
5. More evidence shows the pandemic has taken a toll on women's mental health
A comprehensive global literature review published in The Lancet this month found that the pandemic led to 53 million cases of depression and 76 million cases of anxiety. Women experienced greater increases in depression and anxiety than men. The studies included in the analysis were conducted between January 2020 and January 2021.
6. However the politics shake out, the Build Back Better bill could mean good news for Americans' health and well-being
As politics swirl around the Biden administration's proposed $3.5 trillion Build Back Better bill, the fate of several potentially significant healthcare policies hangs in the balance. Health-related policy proposals include extending the Obamacare subsidies that were implemented in 2021; expanding access to Medicaid in states that didn't expand Medicaid on their own; and adding dental, vision, and hearing benefits to Medicare coverage. Other policy provisions that could affect Americans' well-being include paid family leave and subsidized child care, among others. Though lawmakers are still negotiating which policy priorities make it to the final bill, any of these policies could have a significant affect on the health and well-being of millions of Americans.
7. People shopping for 2022 health insurance coverage on the marketplace will get more time and assistance
The Biden administration hopes to make it easier for people to enroll in health insurance via Healthcare.gov this year by extending the upcoming open enrollment period, starting November 1, 2021, through January 15, 2022. Previously, annual open enrollment ended on December 15 of each year. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) will also enlist 1,500 navigators — four times as many as in prior years — to help consumers find health insurance coverage and navigate post-enrollment issues. CMS will also relaunch a program that supports 1,000 local organizations to provide outreach and education to consumers about signing up for coverage.
8. Colorado blazes a trail, requiring marketplace health plans to cover gender-affirming care
Transgender people who shop for health insurance via the health insurance marketplace will be the first in the nation to be assured access to medically necessary gender-affirming care. This month, CMS approved Colorado's requirement that marketplace health plans cover gender-affirming care for transgender individuals, effective January 1, 2023. Services such as hair removal and breast construction are often deemed cosmetic — and therefore not covered — by health insurers. But Colorado's new requirement will defer to experts on what care they deem medically necessary and require health insurers to pay for such care.
9. Taking aspirin every day is no longer recommended to reduce risk of heart attack and stroke
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is set to change its recommendation that adults ages 50 to 59 without increased risk for bleeding take low-dose aspirin to prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Based on a review of the current medical evidence, USPSTF is recommending that people without a history of heart disease not start taking aspirin just because they reach a certain age. USPSTF, which is an independent body that can influence standards of treatment and insurance coverage with its recommendations, found a small benefit of low-dose aspirin (81 to 100 milligrams) for people ages 40 to 59 who are at risk for heart disease. But the risk of potentially fatal bleeding, which aspirin can cause, offsets the benefits, particularly for people without particular risk of developing heart disease. People should consult their healthcare provider before making any change to their aspirin regimen.