Until recently, medical research has largely ignored many health issues important to women, and women have long been under-represented in clinical trials. In the past, research on women's health focused on diseases that affect fertility and reproduction, while many studies on other diseases focused on men. At present, most women receive diagnoses and treatment based on what has worked for men. However, the efforts of women's health advocates and the unveiling of inequities in medical research have led to a broadened research agenda. This research is beginning to yield insights into the health-related similarities and differences between men and women.
HEALTH CARE PRACTICES
When women try to meet their needs for reproductive health care and other health care services, they often face a fragmentation in the health care system itself. Furthermore, women make more visits to the doctor than do men. Women are highly interested in, and informed about, health care issues. However, reliable information about health care has not been widely available. National studies have indicated that women may not be as satisfied with the information they receive from their health care providers as are men or with the level of communication with their provider. Furthermore, several studies have found that health care providers treat women differently than they do men. Compared with the treatment given to men, health providers may give women less thorough evaluations for similar complaints, minimize their symptoms, provide fewer interventions for the same diagnoses, prescribe some types of medications more often, or provide less explanation in response to questions.
ACCESS TO HEALTH INSURANCE
Although the health of the American economy has never been better, more women than ever lack health insurance coverage. The proportion of uninsured women under age 65 rose from 14 percent in 1993 to 18 percent in 1998. More dramatic still, the proportion of women under 65 who lacked health insurance for all or part of 1998 was a staggering 26 percent, according to the 1998 Commonwealth Fund Survey of Women's Health.
The women who are most likely to have no health insurance are those who earn low or moderate incomes, women of color, and women with health problems. More than 8 in 10 uninsured women are employed or they are married to someone who is employed. Lack of insurance severely compromises both the accessibility and quality of health care.
Seventy percent of women under age 65 had private health insurance in 1997, and 12 percent were covered by Medicaid. Almost all Americans aged 65 and over are covered by the Medicare program, including 92 percent of those who also have private insurance.