ANNAPOLIS – In a first for the organization, the Women’s Caucus of Maryland introduced a bill Thursday to establish an Office of Women’s Health dedicated to recognizing the unique health care needs of women.
Maryland ranks 25th in the nation in terms of women’s health programs. If passed, Maryland would become one of only a handful of states to have an office devoted solely to women’s health services. The office, which would be under the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, would serve as the lead state agency on women’s health issues and as a center of educational information.
This is the first time the Women’s Caucus has initiated legislation. Up until now, the group only reviewed and voted to support specific bills.
“We’re here because women are not little men,” said Delegate Joan Stern, D-Montgomery, who sponsored the bill with the help of House Speaker Casper Taylor Jr.
“We’re different. For years, the medical community has treated women like miniature men.”
Stern hopes that with the help of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and other agencies, the office can serve as an advocate for the improvement of women’s health care, providing educational information and health services to women of all ages.
The office would focus on health issues pertinent to women, such as osteoporosis, cancer and diabetes – what she refers to as the top three killers of women. Additionally, it would work with other agencies to develop an outreach program for women who are at risk for contracting a sexually transmitted disease.
“The purpose of this program is to effectively and efficiently coordinate existing health programs that we have in the state, to identify gaps in health services and to have the opportunity to increase health services and programs,” said Sue Hecht, president of the Women’s Caucus.
Other health service areas include obstetrics and gynecology, substance abuse, obesity, eating disorders, cardiovascular disease, and menopause and post-menopause.
The programs will emphasize preventive health and healthy lifestyles.
“Half of the U.S. women’s health care budget is spent in the last nine months of a woman’s life and not for preventive care to improve quality of life,” said Joy Newton, executive director of Washington’s Women in Government. “How ironic that the most costly healthcare for women is spent in nine month segments-during pregnancy and death.”
Women legislators are initially asking for $273,000 to develop a Women’s Health Care Grant Fund, which the office will use to create grants for programs designed to improve women’s health care. “This proposal goes far beyond the concerns of women,” Taylor said. “I personally believe that this particular proposal deserves a wide cross section of support, not simply limiting it to the women of Maryland. I think it’s the right thing for the government of Maryland to do.” – 30 – CNS-2-1-01