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Paula A. Johnson, MD, MPH Headshot

A New Year's Resolution for our Nation's Leaders: Prioritize Women's Health

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The new year is upon us and new year's resolutions abound. But what of our nation's leaders? What will they pledge to change in 2013? How about a new year's resolution to listen to the voters and pledge to focus on women's health in its totality? In the New Year a record number of women will be sworn in as United States senators setting the stage for a renewed focus on women's issues, including women's health. On Election Day, women voters spoke loud and clear to give President Barack Obama a second term. While pundits and politicos might attribute this significant ten-point gender gap to abortion politics, a deeper look at women voters' sentiments unveils a different story. Women want a comprehensive view of women's health, including preventive care and women's health research to be a policy priority.

For far too long, the view of women's health has been limited and has been more a political football than a serious policy discussion. And that political discussion has centered on abortion, critically important but not representative of all of women's health. Voters, and in particular women voters, have a much more comprehensive vision of women's overall health and wellness across the lifespan. In fact, findings from Lake Research Partners' national survey of general election voters indicate that 60 percent of women voters and over half (53 percent) of all voters want women's health, including access to preventive services for all women and more women's health research, to be a top or high priority for the next President.1 Policymakers would be wise to take heed: voters want women's health to be more than a political wedge issue; they want it to be a policy priority.

Who are the 53 percent who place such a high priority on women's health? The answer might surprise you. They encompass a broad spectrum of our electorate with conflicting viewpoints and diverse demographics including nearly one in three (30 percent) who are anti-choice on the issue of abortion. Nearly half (46 percent) of men and two-thirds of Black and African American men polled place a high priority on women's health as did voters surveyed from diverse political ideologies including: a majority (77 percent) of Democrats, nearly half (48 percent) of Independents, one in four (27 percent) Republicans and nearly one-third (31 percent) of Americans who voted for Romney.

Unfortunately, while voters recognize women's health is an important priority for our nation, many of our government leaders do not. Women's health research is woefully underfunded andlikely to experience further cuts. We as a nation also lack specific commitments to stratify and routinely report health care data by sex, severely impeding our ability to evaluate health care outcomes for women. These realities make it highly unlikely that the United States can comprehensively evaluate health reform's impact on women, 51 percent of the population.

As for women's preventive health services, without a specific plan of action, the necessary monitoring and evaluation of the historic preventive services provision available to women without cost-sharing under the ACA will never happen. This is a particularly sobering thought given that this provision has the potential to save lives and improve the quality of life for millions of women by preventing chronic diseases, including diabetes, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease. For those concerned about the added cost of such a plan, consider the fact that the epidemic of chronic disease in women costs our health care system an estimated $466 billion in direct costs each year.

At this historic moment, when the promise of health care reform stretches before us and the foundation of our new health care system continues to take shape, integrating women's health in all aspects of reform will pay enormous dividends for our nation's health care system over time. Results from the 2012 election indicate that the American public understands the importance and immediacy of women's health as a policy issue. Will our leaders listen? Can they really afford not to?

1Lake Research Partners. Banners from a Nationwide Phone Survey of 1220 Registered, Likely 2012 General Election Voters. November 4-6, 2012.