Tuesday, April 7, 2009

How is Your Texas Health Care?


By Katie Mahoney

This is the story of Rachel in Bexar County, whose mother is 73 years old and hasn't been able to afford to see a doctor for the past 10 years, even though she found a lump in her breast several years ago.

It's also the story of the El Paso County mom who can't afford health insurance for herself and drives to Mexico when she needs to see a doctor or fill a prescription

And it's the story of the woman in Tom Green County who needed a routine medical procedure but couldn't find a clinic in town that she could afford and didn't have transportation to another city.

These are just three of the hundreds of Texas women who have taken the Healthy Women, Healthy Families survey since last summer. Healthy Women, Healthy Families, a statewide coalition of more than 25 grassroots and nonprofit organizations, was launched by NARAL Pro-Choice Texas Foundation in 2008 to improve access to quality healthcare services for Texas women and families.
Member organizations -- which represent a broad range of issue areas including social work, community development and environmental justice -- work to collect surveys from their communities in order to better understand the real health care challenges faced by women across the state.

Why is this work so necessary? Texas has some of the nation's highest rates of women without health insurance, child poverty, teen pregnancy, mothers who receive little or no prenatal care, and women over 40 who have not received a mammogram in the past 10 years.

But that's not all. Certain populations -- low-income women, women of color and disabled women, to name just a few -- experience even more troubling healthcare inequities. Black and Latina women have the highest death rates from cervical cancer. Women with disabilities are often denied certain types of healthcare or given substandard care. And half of all Texas women giving birth must rely on Medicaid to cover their child's birth.

As part of the coalition's commitment to raising the voices of real women across the state, we made the decision to collect personal stories, not just numbers or statistics. Too often those with the fewest resources become just another number and their stories and lived experiences are ignored. Facts and figures are certainly powerful tools, but at the end of the day, what makes the most impact are stories like Patricia's. Patricia is a mother of two living in Fort Worth who recently lost her job and health insurance. Both her children have asthma -- she worries that it is due to the high pollution levels in their neighborhood -- and lately she has begun to experience health problems that she suspects are associated with diabetes. There is no availability of low-cost youth programs in her area; even the YMCA is too expensive. She constantly worries about her children, their future, the opportunities they might miss, and the trouble they might find themselves in without extra activities to occupy them. "Ultimately," she told the coalition, "I am … feeling like I have failed as a person and a parent."

The Healthy Women, Healthy Families coalition believes it is crucial that health policy reflect the real experiences of a broad range of communities, not simply those who have the resources and institutional power to advocate for their own healthcare needs. Through a multi-level strategy that includes targeted policy work, community education and media outreach, we are committed to making this happen. More information about Healthy Women, Healthy Families, including the survey, is available at http://www.healthywomenhealthyfamilies.org/. We encourage all Texans, and especially women, to take the Healthy Women, Healthy Families survey and share their story today.
Mahoney is project coordinator for the Healthy Women, Healthy Families Coalition and director of outreach & administration at NARAL Pro-Choice Texas
Copyright (C) 2009 by the Texas Lone Star Forum. 4/09

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