Last week, the Institute of Medicine recommended to the Department of Health and Human Services eight preventative health services and screenings aimed at improving the quality of women’s health and wellness. There is a lot of praise from women for the department’s suggestion that eliminating costly insurance co-pays for birth control will help lift the burden placed on underprivileged women regarding the health of their bodies.
While there is recognized gaps in preventative services for women of color, we should take a step back to look at what these recommendations imply about poor women in general. Undoubtedly, most of these programs are needed immediately and will help identify and meet the critical care needs of women, but, conversely, the programs don’t address the systemic problems that create the poor conditions–which, if left unchecked, will create not only resentment among tax-payers, who fund these programs, but new externalities, which are unpredictable without addressing the fundamental deficiencies in the health care system with careful and compassionate analysis.
There is a current study out of New Zealand that documents the decrease of repeat abortions among underprivileged women after their government offered intrauterine device, or IUD free of charge. According to Jezebel, the main reason the program worked was that women were able to use their rational facilities to make a choice sans their pocketbook.
In America, many women’s health organizations are applauding the steps taken by the government that will–for the first time–force insurers to give black and Latino women, who disproportionally live in racially and economically zoned areas, access to free health services, including the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, HPV screening, and HIV testing.
In the current political climate in America, many people can see these moves as entitlements for women who don’t deserve anything past the current levels of government support. In these tough economic times, many will not have any problem cutting these services to under-served women, even though there is no real plan to fix America’s health care system besides President Obama’s reform package–which doesn’t take full action until 2014. Not funding these programs cannot be an option right now when poor people are already having to unfairly chose between eating nutritionally dense food at a high cost or dining in at a fast-food restaurant.
One of the key systemic issues is the standard American diet, which exasperates health problems in poor communities that don’t have the resources wealthy people posses to deal with effects of poor diet and nutrition. With the expansion of marketing and public relations firms that have helped powerful and organized food industries promote their products as essential elements to the human diet, the U.S. has allowed corporations to assault underprivileged neighborhoods with the lethal combination of sugar, fat, and salt. Hence, black and Latino women have seen a rise in cancer rates and an inability to fight off auto-immune dis-eases.
Scientific studies are continuously linking meat consumption with cancer of all kinds in humans. Considering black women are leading the nation in cervical cancer deaths, there should be a full-scale investigation that runs concurrently with fully-funded women’s health programs, Hopefully an detailed appraisal, which properly unearths the massive lobbying by food executives to gain bureaucratic support for their harmful suggestions, will equal a rise in overall wellness of minority and poor populations of women.
The conversation surrounding preventative care and sex-related issues in regards to minority communities continues to be entrenched in subtle racist, sexist, and classicist rhetoric. Unquestionably, there is a health crisis in minority communities, but the discourse never reflects up the socioeconomic ladder towards white, well-to-do women. There is no real debate on whether similar preventative care programs should be promoted in affluent communities, where silence and cunning behavior lead to unplanned pregnancies and risky sexual behavior also, much like what was seemingly the case in Sarah Palin’s family–looking from the outside in.
The systemic problems abound in America, and money and power are consistently impairing women’s ability to gain complete autonomy over their decisions concerning their health and well-being. If U.S. policy makers somehow gain the political will to reject lobbying from special interests maybe their will be a comprehensive overhaul of the many intertwined systems destroying the health and well-being of minority women.