WASHINGTON – Maryland was among the most improved since last year in a ranking of states on women’s health issues, moving up seven places to 18th overall in a study released Tuesday.
But no state got a satisfactory rating from the National Women’s Law Center, which released the report along with the University of Pennsylvania and the Oregon Health and Science University.
And one Maryland delegate worries that further gains could take a backseat to a tight state budget and to bioterrorism preparedness, as health departments divert resources to beef up security and surveillance.
Delegate Joan Stern, D-Montgomery, said the “feds need to give money to the states” for bioterrorism preparedness so state funds can be used for programs like women’s health. She noted that the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene cannot fill the recently established Office of Women’s Health because of a budget deficit forced a state hiring freeze.
Maryland was 25th overall in last year’s Women’s Health Report Card, which measures women’s access to health care, key health conditions, diseases and causes of early death. The report compares state performance to a number of national benchmarks set in 1990 under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People initiative.
Only one benchmark — access to mammograms for women over 50 — was met this year by all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Results were mixed for the other standards: women with health insurance, physical activity, obesity, healthy eating, diabetes, life expectancy, poverty and the wage gap.
Stern said the state used last year’s report, the first, as “a tool to leverage improvements,” and she hoped the same would happen this year.
Before the first report card, Stern said state officials did not focus on women’s health outside of prenatal care.
“There were a lot of areas that were weren’t looking at because of a lack of resources,” Stern said.
Now, she notes, the state is dedicating funds from its $4 billion share of the tobacco settlement to smoking-related health issues, which affect both women and men. The tobacco money has helped focus cancer research, plan a new dental school for the University of Maryland and implement a program that is expected to serve mostly women, a senior prescription drug program.
Stern she will use Maryland’s unsatisfactory rating this year to push for funding for osteoporosis screenings, while fighting to make sure all of the tobacco money stays in health care.
In the meantime, Mollye Block and Dr. Diana Chang are working on women’s health at the state level, even though the official Office of Women’s Health is stalled.
Chang, the medical director of women’s health for the state health department, works with programs already up and running while Block, the department’s director of women’s health programs, works with the community and outside organizations to determine gaps in women’s health services and education.
Block held five public hearings on women’s health throughout the state in the past two years. She said women had the same gripes at every hearing: mental health, domestic violence, dentistry, health insurance, access to care, prescription drug coverage and eating disorders, especially obesity.
Those concerns were the same problems Tuesday’s report highlighted as areas where the states are failing women.
“Policy makers at all levels are letting women down,” said Regan E. Ralph, vice president of health and reproductive rights for the National Women’s Law Center. “The cost is women’s health and women’s lives.”
But Block said women could not expect to see every problem solved at once.
“All of the issues are very important,” she said. “But we’ll see because money is also an issue. My sense would be that we would only choose one at a time.”