Women's Health Care Discussed

Panelists Claim Reforms Will Hit Women Harder Than Men

Panelists at a Radcliffe symposium discussed the role of women's issues in health care reforms.

Representatives of grassroots organizations, the insurance industry and state government offered different perspectives on the debate yesterday afternoon at Agassiz Theater.

"Women are a large percentage of the uninsured," said Allyson Schwartz, a state senator from Pennsylvania. "They are more involved with small business, more work part time, they leave and enter the workforce sometimes in ways men don't."

Schwartz and the symposium's two other panelists--Marsha Hams, a member of Massachusetts Women's Health Care for All, and Peter Hiam, Massachusetts' former insurance commissioner, agreed that health care reform is especially important for women.

"Women make less money," Schwartz said. She added that more "women than men receive both Medicare and Medicaid, two programs targeted for cuts by reformers.


The panelists also agreed that current efforts to cut the cost of health care may diminish quality. "What's happening now [in the health care debate] is a complete perversion of what we talked about last year," Hams said.

"The world is going to get worse for consumers," Hiam agreed.

But the delegates differed over the direction of future reform.

Hams, a grassroots activist, said that reform should incorporate four principles: universality, equality, diversity and grassroots input.

Hiam, however, said that the best road to reform is through consensus. Diversity is often divisive, he said, since "we believe in diversity as long as we agree with it." The panelists all said that establishment of national standards is key to health care reform.

"States have been the traditional regulators of insurance companies," Schwartz said. "[But] it's wrong that someone has access to health care in one state and not in another state."

Pamela S. Green, visiting lecturer on health law in the Department of Health Policy at the Radcliffe Institute for Public Policy, moderated the discussion.

Green said the symposium was important because the health care debate taking place has shifted from the national to the state level.

"Now we begin a new debate in a new era, in a new venue--in fact, in 50 new venues," she said. "The decisions being made now will have a profound impact on the quality and even the duration of our lives."

The symposium was co-sponsored by the Boston Women's Health Book Collective, the Massachusetts Women's Health Care Coalition and the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at the Kennedy School of Government.

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