When it comes to improving the health status of women, Maine is among the top ten in the United States. Before we pat ourselves on the back however, it’s important to know that all but two states have earned either an Unsatisfactory or a Failing grade.
The ratings can be found in the 2010 edition of Making the Grade on Women’s Health: A National and State-by-State Report Card released in December by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). It is the fifth in a series of reports since 2000, and grades each state against health objectives drawn largely from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy People 2010 agenda. It also determines whether states have met health policy goals.
In the ten years since the first Report Card was issued, a lot of progress has been made, including lower death rates from heart disease, stroke, and breast and lung cancer. In her new role as medical director of MaineCare, Dr. Dora Anne Mills says she plans to focus on preventive care to improve the health of all people on MaineCare. She believes the Report Card rankings show that Maine’s policies of providing health insurance through MaineCare to many women who live with low income or disabilities has already improved their health in many important areas. ”MaineCare provides coverage of such preventive services as tobacco treatment, mammograms and other cancer screenings, cholesterol and other cardiovascular disease screenings, as well as prenatal care,” says Dr. Mills. “Our rankings in those areas are higher than much of the country’s.”
Unfortunately, as the recent report indicates, the status of women’s health has declined in a number of areas. For instance, more women have diabetes and high blood pressure and are considered obese.
According to the authors of the Report Card, “Overall, the nation is still so far from the Healthy People and related goals that it receives a grade of “Unsatisfactory.” They go on to say that the health status of women would improve if states established policies that improve access to health care, promote wellness and prevention and create healthier communities.
Exactly where is Maine on the list? It is #8 with an overall grade of Unsatisfactory. The highest marks go to Massachusetts and Vermont, but they each only get a Satisfactory minus. At the bottom of the list with Failing grades are: Texas, Missouri, South Carolina, District of Columbia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
Maine should celebrate its status compared to other states, says Dr. Stephen Sears, Interim Director of Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but adds that it’s obvious there is still much work to be done. “ It’s an opportunity to determine where we should focus our efforts, to raise awareness and to look for ways we can make improvements.”
Dr. Sears says multiple factors usually contribute to health problems. By the same token, it often takes a multi-faceted and/or collaborative approach to finding successful solutions. He cites Maine’s Breast and Cervical Health Program as one example of success through collaboration. “Maine ranked third in the nation in the percentage of women 40 and older who had a mammogram in the past two years. That’s great news, which I think can be attributed in part to our Breast and Cervical Health program. This long-standing program funds nearly 300 provider sites around the state to offer critical diagnostic and referral services to women who otherwise couldn’t afford them. If we truly want to see similar successes it’s obvious we must look carefully at underlying causes and then work together in our efforts to make Maine a healthier state not only for women, but for all our citizens.”
Diane Atwood was the health reporter on WCSH-TV for more than 20 years. She is now a freelance medical writer and also has a health and wellness blog called Catching Health. To read her blog or learn more about the writing services Diane offers, go to www.dianeatwood.com/catchinghealth. You can also send her an email: firstname.lastname@example.org