"A Path to Equality": Is Vermont Delivering on Women's Health?

Is Vermont delivering on the promise of quality, affordable health care for women? 

Families depend on both men and women to make ends meet. Women across Vermont are leading households and supporting families. It’s critical to make sure that all women are getting the health care they need to lead healthy, prosperous lives. As the World Bank says: Gender equality is smart economics.

The 2014 Women’s Health Report Card for Vermont underscores that we have a lot to be proud of — Vermont continues to lead the nation in women’s health. In the report card, Vermont was ranked No. 3 and earned a final grade of A. This report ranked all 50 states on 30 measures of women’s health, including coverage, access to care and health outcomes.

I was pleased to see this glowing grade as more evidence that Vermont is on the right track and is a leader in health care. However, I also took this opportunity to educate myself on Green Mountain Care — the next step in Vermont’s health care leadership. I’ll admit that I knew very little about the universal, publicly funded health care system outlined in Act 48. This is something to which the state of Vermont has already committed, and now I can comfortably say that I support this path forward and urge others to get educated. 

So what is Vermont doing right? The positive strides of the Affordable Care Act expanded health coverage to more women through the new health insurance marketplaces and through Medicaid, improved coverage of preventive care, created stronger oversight of insurance rates, and increased quality improvement initiatives.

But can Vermont be doing better? Yes. There is room for improvement to ensure that all women in Vermont have access to the health care they need to lead healthy and prosperous lives — especially women of color. Our great report card cannot erase the truth that women of color in Vermont are still less likely to have health coverage, access to health care, and have poorer health.

Looking at the measures of women’s health by race, 6.1 percent of white women in Vermont report being uninsured. That percentage rises to 8.4 percent for black women and then jumps to 17.3 percent of Latinas. Additionally, 11.7 percent of elderly women earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level are uninsured along with 9 percent of those between 138 percent and 400 percent of the poverty level. These upsetting disparities will be erased if Vermont moves to Green Mountain Care in 2017. All Vermonters will have health insurance, just by virtue of being a Vermonter.

Vermont has a special opportunity to achieve the equality that is missing here and throughout the nation. There are many leaders working to balance the financing of this system; to translate the dollars we are already spending on health care into an equitable, universal system. This is enormously complicated, and the devil will truly be in the details. While not increasing the burden on individual Vermonters and Vermont businesses, we need all of our state leaders to side with women and communities of color to make their health a priority — to give our mothers, sisters and daughters full and fair opportunities that begin with quality, affordable health care.

Please join me in supporting our legislators’ commitment to work with the administration to finance Green Mountain Care. And let’s make an example of our state with a true system that is fairly financed, does not harm economic growth and achieves the equality we all deserve.

Stephanie Hainley is Chief Operating Officer at White and Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors in Burlington.  She a founding board member at Main Street Alliance of Vermont and is past president of Burlington Business & Professional Women. This op-ed was originally published at the Barre Montpelier Times Argus and subsequently in the Burlington Free Press.

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