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Study documents the health costs of being a woman

Women commonly seek care for female-specific conditions, such as pregnancy and menopause, which substantially increases their costs for health care, according to a new study. Based on 3 years of data from the 2000-2002 National Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), more than one-fifth of women (21.2 percent) sought care for a female-specific condition during a 1-year period. They sought care primarily for gynecologic disorders (7.4 percent), pregnancy-related conditions (6.4 percent), and menopausal symptoms (5.3 percent). The health costs of being a woman were substantial. For example, women spent from a mean of $483 per year for menopausal disorders to $3,896 for female cancers.

Overall, women spent an estimated $108 billion a year for health care, of which more than 40 percent ($43.3 billion) was for female-specific conditions. However, more than 20 percent of U.S. women had no health insurance coverage for some or all of a year, and nearly 30 percent of pregnant women had no health insurance.

Uninsured women seeking care for female-specific conditions were less likely to have visited a doctor, filled a prescription, or been hospitalized for these conditions. Yet they were more likely to have sought treatment for these problems at emergency departments (especially younger and black women).

Women primarily sought outpatient care for female-related medical problems, usually requiring several outpatient visits. This underscores the importance of outpatient care for women's health, as well as access to providers with the expertise to provide care for female-specific problems, note the researchers. Their study was supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13057).

More details are in "The cost of being a woman: A national study of health care utilization and expenditures for female-specific conditions," by Kristen H. Kjerulff, Ph.D., Kevin D. Frick, Ph.D., Jeffrey A. Rhoades, Ph.D., R.D., and Christopher S. Hollenbeck, Ph.D., in the January-February, 2007 Women's Health Issues 17, pp. 13-21.

Reprints (AHRQ Publication No. 07-R057) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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