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. Advancing NIH Research on the Health of Women
HealthyWomen is working to inform the National Institute of Health's (NIH) upcoming meeting "Advancing NIH Research on the Health of Women: A 2021 Conference" by providing comments on the effort. HealthyWomen identified major challenges and opportunities that exist to address rising maternal morbidity and mortality rates, chronic debilitating conditions in women and stagnant cervical cancer survival rates. We also included the stories of real women who have been affected by these issues.
2. Women's Health Must Be a National Priority
HealthyWomen submitted comments to the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) to encourage it to address the many unmet needs that exist with respect to diagnosis and treatment and management of diseases and conditions that affect women, particularly underserved women and women of color, in its National Priorities for Health. PCORI's mission is to fund research that will provide patients, their caregivers and clinicians with evidence-based information to make better informed healthcare decisions.
3. Key Agencies Are Reviewing Postpartum Care for Women
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), in partnership with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), invited public input on its draft of key questions for the systematic review on Postpartum Care for Women up to One Year After Birth. HealthyWomen recommended that AHRQ/PCORI directly survey postpartum women and offered to partner with AHRQ/PCORI in the collection or sharing of survey data.
4. A Democratic Leader in the U.S. Senate Discloses Her Breast Cancer Diagnosis
This month, United States Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, announced that she'd been diagnosed with and treated for early-stage breast cancer earlier in 2021. Klobuchar, 61, credited a routine mammogram with finding her cancer early. Now cancer-free after surgery and radiation, the senator urged others not to skip breast cancer screening.
5. Screening Mammography Is Mostly Free, but Consumer Costs for Follow-Up Imaging Are Rising
Costs may make it harder for many women to get follow-up diagnostic breast imaging after an initial mammogram. Though the Affordable Care Act eliminated out-of-pocket costs for most screening mammography, a recent analysis showed that among women ages 40 to 64 years with private health insurance, out-of-pocket costs for follow-up breast imaging — which are not exempt from consumer costs — were common and rising. The median out-of-pocket cost for a breast MRI, for example, doubled between 2010 and 2017, rising from nearly $25 to nearly $50. Women who got biopsies paid an average of 10% of the cost in 2010 and nearly 20% of the cost in 2017.
6. Female Doctors in Training Report Gender Discrimination and Sexual Harassment
A study published this month found that nearly 65% of female emergency medicine trainees reported experiencing gender discrimination. Patients or their families were the most common source of discrimination, followed by nurses or staff. Another report, this one from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons' annual meeting, found that 68% of women experienced sexual harassment during their orthopedic surgery training.
7. The Period Equity Movement Marches Forward in California
A California bill making its way to Governor Gavin Newsom's desk would require all public schools and colleges in California to provide free pads, tampons and other menstrual products in public restrooms. The law is the latest step in a movement toward period equity, that is, to make menstrual products free and accessible to all people who menstruate, particularly low-income people.
8. Guidelines Change to Avoid Undertreating Anemia in Pregnant Black Women
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently announced that it has changed the standards for defining iron-deficiency anemia in pregnancy. The new "Anemia in Pregnancy" practice bulletin removes a threshold that was different for Black women than for women of other races based on data from the 1990s. The latest move by ACOG acknowledges that its previous approach could lead to undertreatment of anemia, which in turn can lead to greater risks of preeclampsia, cesarean sections, preterm birth and maternal death.
9. A New Study Shows That Transgender Women Die Younger Than Others
A recently published study showed that transgender women died at nearly twice the expected rate compared with cisgender men and nearly three times more often than cisgender women. Cisgender people are those whose sex assigned at birth matches their gender identity. The study reviewed decades worth of data, from 1972 to 2018, and found that the drivers of disproportionate deaths among transgender women were heart disease, lung cancer, HIV-related disease and suicide. The more recent data, from 2010 to 2018, showed even greater disparities. Transgender women died at a rate nearly four times higher than cisgender men and more than five times higher than cisgender women.
10. A Top Medical Journal Will Require Gender Data in All Research Submissions
This month, the editors of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) announced that as of January 1, 2022, researchers who submit their papers for review will need to provide supplemental data on gender, race, geography and other considerations regarding how representative the study group is of the broader population. The editors acknowledged that this change alone will not solve historic lack of representation in clinical research, but that it is a concrete step forward.