The eighth annual National Women's Health Week, sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health, kicked off on Mother's Day, May 13. This weeklong celebration of the progress made in women's health was designed to bring attention to women's health issues, encourage women to get regular health check-ups, and help educate women about improving their physical and mental health.
Women's health and women's access to quality health insurance are topics of growing interest to the veterinary profession and, in particular, to the AVMA Group Health and Life Insurance Trust. Within several years, the gender balance is expected to shift from a profession that has historically been predominantly male to one that is more heavily populated by females.
In overall AVMA membership, the gender split is approaching 50-50. While men are in the majority in the 50-and-over age group, the reverse is true among younger veterinarians. More than 54 percent of AVMA members age 40 to 49 are female. In the age 30 to 39 group, nearly 68 percent are female. In the under-age-30 group, more than 75 percent are female. Veterinary school enrollment statistics show the trend is increasing: 77 percent of students in the 2005-2008 classes are women, according to the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges. The trend has also impacted the demographics of the AVMA GHLIT trustees. Of the 10 trustees, four—Drs. Martha O'Rourke, Janet Donlin, Blair Jones, and Carolynn MacAllister—are women.
Dr. MacAllister, who joined the board in 2006, plans to make women's health one of her areas of focus as a trustee.
"I want to help women stay healthy," Dr. MacAllister said. "GHLIT is trying to be proactive to enhance our products for women. Women's health issues include osteoporosis, skin cancer, and depression. What I'll be thinking about and working on will be 'What can we do to enhance wellness for women?'"
Rising health care costs impact everybody but can be particularly problematic for women. One reason is women's higher reliance on health care. Another reason is that women in the United States are less likely to be insured through their own jobs, and twice as likely to be insured as a dependent, making them more vulnerable to losing coverage. The GHLIT health insurance, which is guaranteed at graduation to AVMA members, provides a substantial and unique advantage over most other plans. The coverage is linked to membership in AVMA—not to employment—so the coverage can stay with veterinarians throughout their careers.
Dr. Kate Hunter, who has a small animal practice in Minneapolis-St. Paul, knows well the value of guaranteed coverage and the career-long protection provided by GHLIT. Dr. Hunter had entered veterinary college at the University of Minnesota from a corporate background and not only appreciated the value of good health insurance but also had some concerns about how insurable she would be as a 30-year-old graduate. She made sure to take advantage of the guaranteed issue as a Student AVMA member in 1986, and has kept her GHLIT health insurance ever since.
Recently, what was supposed to be a routine laparoscopic procedure for gallbladder removal resulted in complications, leading to three hospitalizations.
"(The) AVMA GHLIT made the insurance part really easy," Dr. Hunter said. "If the doctor said I needed something, it was done.
"I'm so dependent on my AVMA GHLIT coverage, I don't even think about it. I'd much rather be concerned about my business, my family, and my health."
Peace of mind is one advantage afforded by health insurance. Better health is another. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19 percent—or 17 million—women age 18 to 64 in the United States are uninsured, and this translates to lesser quality or even lack of health care, in many cases. Preventive care and early diagnosis take a dramatic dip when a woman is uninsured. According to the 2004 Women's Health Survey of women aged 18 to 64, conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 74 percent of insured women had mammograms in the previous two years. For uninsured women, that figure dropped nearly in half, to 40 percent. Sixty-five percent of insured women had their blood cholesterol tested in the preceding two years; only 40 percent of uninsured women have had it tested. Eighty percent of insured women had Pap smears, whereas only 60 percent of uninsured women had this important screening test.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that every woman talk with her doctor about screening examinations, including body mass index calculation, mammogram, Pap smear, cholesterol check, blood pressure check, colorectal cancer examination, diabetes test, depression screening, bone density test, and tests for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
In addition to getting the recommended screening tests, Preventive Services advises the most important things a woman can do to stay healthy are to be tobacco free, be physically active, eat a healthy diet, stay a healthy weight, and take preventive medicines if needed.
The AVMA GHLIT program is underwritten by New York Life Insurance Company (NY, NY 10010). For more information on GHLIT plans, including eligibility, rates, renewal provisions, exclusions, and limitations, or to find a GHLIT agent in a particular area, call the Trust office at (800) 621-6360.