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Deb Gordon

Deborah D. Gordon has spent her career trying to level the playing field for healthcare consumers. She is co-founder of Umbra Health Advocacy, a marketplace for patient advocacy services, and co-director of the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, the premiere membership organization for independent advocates. She is the author of "The Health Care Consumer's Manifesto: How to Get the Most for Your Money," based on consumer research she conducted as a senior fellow in the Harvard Kennedy School's Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government. Deb previously spent more than two decades in healthcare leadership roles, including chief marketing officer for a Massachusetts health plan and CEO of a health technology company. Deb is an Aspen Institute Health Innovators Fellow, an Eisenhower Fellow and a Boston Business Journal 40-under-40 honoree. Her contributions have appeared in JAMA Network Open, the Harvard Business Review blog, USA Today, RealClear Politics, The Hill and Managed Care Magazine. She earned a BA in bioethics from Brown University and an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School.

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November Policy Roundup

Women's Health Policy

1. In a new op-ed, HealthyWomen’s senior policy advisor advocates for the military to better address the healthcare needs of servicewomen

In a new opinion piece published this month in the Hill, HealthyWomen’s Senior Policy Advisor Martha Nola, advocated for improving healthcare for women in the military. Women have been serving in the United States military for nearly 250 years, and in 2021, there were approximately 230,000 female service members. Yet, women are more likely than men to leave the miliary, in part due to discrimination in healthcare, reproductive health needs, mental health needs, and high rates of injuries, according to Nolan. Nolan argued that Congress should pass legislation to support servicewomen’s unique health needs and to reduce gaps in care.

2. According to a new study, one out of four monkeypox cases in women may not be tied to sexual transmission

A global study of monkeypox in female patients, published this month in The Lancet, showed that as many as 25% of infections in women were not linked to sexual transmission. Sexual transmission was suspected in most cases, but those without suspected sexual transmission had an unknown route of transmission. Though women currently account for less than 5% of monkeypox cases, the study’s authors warn that more women could be affected by the virus as the monkeypox outbreak evolves.

3. Most employed women have no paid parental leave benefits, according to a new report

This month, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a new analysis of data from the 2022 Women’s Health Survey showing that just 43% of employed women between the ages of 18 and 64 report that their employer offers paid parental leave. About the same proportion (44%) said their employer offers family and medical leave. Women who work full-time and who earn higher incomes were more likely to have these benefits than part-time and lower-income women. The report also quantified the degree to which working mothers shoulder responsibility for caring for sick children. More than half (56%) of working mothers reported that they care for their children when they’re sick and can’t go to school, compared to just 19% of working fathers, though that represented a substantial increase over the 9% of dads who said they were the primary caregiver for sick children in 2020.

4. Should birth control pills be available over the counter? A majority of women say yes.

A new analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation 2022 Women’s Health Survey found that 77% of women ages 18 to 49 would like birth control pills to be available over the counter, without a doctor’s prescription. Among women who use prescription oral contraceptives, 60% said they would be likely to take advantage of an over-the-counter birth control option, most citing convenience. However, other data from the Women’s Health Survey showed that 41% of women ages 18 to 49 did not know that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires most health insurance plans to cover prescription contraceptives at no cost to patients. One-quarter of women with private insurance said they have paid at least part of their prescription contraceptives costs out of pocket, suggesting many health plans may not be in compliance with ACA rules.

5. Home births increased during the pandemic

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Vital Statistics Report, published in November 2022, the number of home births in the United States rose to the highest level in decades during the pandemic. Though home births are still relatively rare, more than 50,000 births occurred at home in 2021, an increase of 12% from 2020. Home births had also increased by 22% between 2019 and 2020. White women were the most likely group to give birth at home, though still just over 2% of births to white mothers were at home, compared with less than 1% of births to Black and Hispanic mothers.

6. The United States earned a D+ in the March of Dimes annual report card on maternal and infant health

According to the 2022 March of Dimes annual report card on maternal and infant health, the rate of preterm births rose to 10.5%, the highest rate since the March of Dimes started tracking this data in 2007. The 2022 rate represents an increase of 4% since 2020. Preterm labor happens when a woman goes into labor between weeks 20 and 37 of pregnancy. Premature birth can cause health risks to babies. The report also showed that infant mortality dropped to 5.4 per 1,000 live births, the lowest since 2010.

6. Pandemic stress may have changed women’s menstrual cycles

Pandemic-related stress was associated with changes in women’s menstrual cycle, according to a recent study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology. The study included self-reported data from women about their levels of stress and menstrual cycle changes, including cycle length, period duration, menstrual flow or spotting. More than half the women reported some change in their menstrual cycle during the pandemic; those who did were also more likely to report high levels of stress in that time.

7. New CDC guidelines shift focus from avoiding opioids to supporting pain management

This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations for opioid prescribing. The updated guidelines soften guidance that urged healthcare providers to avoid unnecessary use of opioid pain relievers due to the risk of addiction and overdose. But many patients with chronic pain struggled to get relief. The new guidelines aim to help people with chronic pain get safe and appropriate care.

8. Oregon voters make affordable healthcare a constitutional right

In the November election, Oregon voters narrowly passed a ballot measure that would require the state to make sure that every Oregon resident “has access to cost-effective, clinically appropriate and affordable healthcare as a fundamental right.” The measure, which passed with 50.7% of the vote, makes Oregon the first state to make affordable healthcare a constitutional right. The ballot measure did not, however, specify how the state should or must do that.

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