by Vicki Adame
One thing is certain: women face more barriers when it comes to accessing healthcare.
That was the overall sentiment expressed by a group of women representing various organizations during a forum hosted by Enroll America on May 19.
The forum—“Narrowing the gap in women’s health issues: Discussing the need to reach women and improve their health”—brought together women from diverse backgrounds to discuss the barriers women face. “We thought, what better time to begin this dialogue than women’s health month,” said Rosy Mota, regional director for Enroll America. “We realize this topic is complicated, but we hope this forum is a starting point.”
The forum, held at the Ibn Sina Foundation Clinic on North Shepherd, hit on numerous topics in the more than hour-long discussion.
Liz James, chief executive officer of the Lesbian Health Initiative (LHI), said that part of the problem is lack of health insurance—and this is especially true for LGBT women. “The statistics show that 29 percent of LGBT women do not have a primary-care provider, compared to 16 percent of heterosexual women,” James said. In addition, partner/family benefits for same-sex married couples are not available in the state through private insurance. “The uninsured have a higher access barrier to healthcare,” James said.
Another challenge is that there are not a lot of welcoming providers for the LGBT community, James said. She noted that LGBT women face higher risk factors for disease such as obesity and are also less likely to get breast exams. “It’s a layered issue with the LGBT community,” she said.
Patients who seek medical care at the Ibn Sina Clinic are uninsured, said Shahnaz Ajani, marketing director for the Ibn Sina Foundation. “The biggest problems to accessing healthcare are the language, culture, and transportation,” Ajani said.
Afshan Jilani, outreach and social programs coordinator for the Muslim Women Leadership Forum, agreed with Ajani, saying language and cultural issues are a big barrier. “We need to go in and talk without creating fear,” Jilani said.
People often think they don’t qualify for coverage, said Denise Cole, ACA administrative coordinator for the City of Houston. Part of what her department does is see how the monthly premium can be added into a person’s monthly budget so they can find a way to pay for it, Cole said.
Oftentimes, even though the services may be affordable, language becomes the barrier. Even when an interpreter comes in with the patient, such as a friend or family member, there is a concern from the doctor who doesn’t know if the information is being translated correctly and completely.
For the refugee women Jilani works with, the issue is also one of isolation. “The women have no interaction with the outside world,” she said. Being able to take information to them and share what resources are available would be a tremendous asset, she said.
Another point that was brought up was that although some women may have coverage through the Affordable Care Act, they may not know how their insurance works. “A lot of people have the insurance, but don’t know what to do with it,” Cole said.
In some cases, those with coverage don’t know that preventative care is covered and there is no co-pay or out-of-pocket expense. “Many won’t go because they think there is a co-pay,” James said.
As for next steps, those present agreed they will continue to work together and figure out how to have visibility where the need presents itself. “There are so many areas of need,” Ajani said.
Editor’s note: LHI will be having its Spring 2015 Health Fair on June 6 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 2150 West 18th Street, Houston 77008. For more information, visit www.LHIHouston.org.
Vicki Adame is the Texas Communications Director for Enroll America.