« May 2018 Issue

New Program Aims to Protect and Improve Women’s Health Care

This February, Community Catalyst launched the Women’s Health Program, an exciting next step building upon 10 years of close partnership with MergerWatch and its collaborators in the Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need initiative. We spoke with Kate Villers, president and founder of Community Catalyst, and Lois Uttley, director of the Women’s Health Program, about why the new program is an important advocacy opportunity for Community Catalyst.

According to Villers, Republican efforts to repeal the ACA, as well as an onslaught of attacks on reproductive rights on the federal and state levels, mean that “women are being particularly shortchanged by the health care system.” Restrictions on access to care are especially affecting low-income women, women of color, immigrants and those who are part of the LGBTQ community. The creation of the Women’s Health Program significantly strengthens Community Catalyst’s ability to respond to these threats and provide the support that women need to secure their rights to health care.

Uttley thinks that the values of both MergerWatch and the Raising Women’s Voices initiative are well suited for a partnership with Community Catalyst: “Like Community Catalyst, we strongly believe that patients know best what is wrong with the health system and what it would take to fix the problems. We need to work from the ground up.”

Putting patients’ rights first was the main priority of MergerWatch, which Uttley founded in 1997 to help grassroots coalitions fight to protect health care services that were being threatened by proposed hospital mergers. The project initially focused on protecting access to reproductive health services at non-religious hospitals merging with religiously-sponsored facilities that prohibit such care. MergerWatch laid important groundwork for the Women’s Health program at Community Catalyst by advocating for practices, policies and systems that ensure medical care is guided by scientifically-accurate, unbiased medical information, and a sensitivity for each patient’s own religious or ethical beliefs.

The Women’s Health Program is now one of the three national entities co-coordinating Raising Women’s Voices, along with the Black Women’s Health Imperative and the National Women’s Health Network. Raising Women’s Voices, founded in 2007, now has a network of 30 regional coordinators in 29 states. They advocated for inclusion of key provisions for women’s health in the Affordable Care Act (ACA), such as required coverage of maternity care and of contraception with no co-pays, as well as prohibitions on charging women more than men are charged for the same health plan.

However, the work did not end there. As the ACA was being implemented, there were further barriers for newly-enrolled women who were figuring out how to navigate the health system to get the care they needed. Uttley recalls, “We worked hard to get women enrolled. Then we started to hear from regional coordinators that women who had enrolled didn’t know how to use their health insurance. They were asking questions like, ‘what is a deductible?’ and ‘what is coinsurance?’” Raising Women’s Voices worked closely with regional coordinators to address these concerns with a health insurance literacy campaign called “My Health, My Voice.” The campaign produced and distributed thousands of copies of “A Woman’s Step-by-Step Guide to Using Health Insurance” and a personal health journal, as well as fact sheets that explain confusing concepts and vocabulary and share strategies on how to keep track of personal health. These materials are available online at www.MyHealthMyVoice.com

The Women’s Health Program is continuing to advocate for better health policy, and is able to reach an even broader audience through social media. Recently, in response to President Trump’s proposed rule that would make it easier for providers to use “religious, moral or personal” beliefs to deny essential care and services to women, LGBTQ people and others, the Women’s Health Program created a Twitter storm using the hashtag #DontDenyUsCare. The campaign went viral and reached 1,473,865 people, sending 1,878 people to the HHS page to submit comments and 105 messages to members of Congress opposing the refusal clause. The success of this short campaign speaks to the energy and reach that the Women’s Health Program has when responding to barriers to health equity. Moving forward, the program can build upon these same strategies to work with consumers and advocacy partners to address further attacks on health care.

Villers says that there are multiple dimensions to the importance of the Women’s Health Program, stressing that women should have a central place in the broader health care reform movement. “Women are not just denied certain services,” she explained. “They also can’t afford health care. They can’t pay for health care for their kids, and they give up jobs to be caretakers.” Uttley echoes this conviction, saying that the Women’s Health Program at Community Catalyst is now poised to help place women’s health in the center of the consumer health movement - “as it should be.”

Priyanka Padidam is an intern with the communications team at Community Catalyst. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Tufts University where she studied Community Health and English.

O N   T H E   W I R E

2018 marks Community Catalyst’s 20th Anniversary! Stay tuned for updates related to this milestone.

Rob Restuccia, executive director, and Andrew Dreyfus, president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, co-authored an op-ed in CommonWealth Magazine about how the 30th anniversary of the Universal Health Care Law in Massachusetts spurred the last three decades of consumer-led advocacy on health care at both the state and federal level.

Rob also teamed up with Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, to write a post for JAMA Forum on the relationships between health and housing.

Sue Sherry, deputy director, talked to Marketplace about how hospital sale of patient debt is bad for consumers.

Center Director Ann Hwang, MD wrote about the connection between civic engagement and good health in Next Avenue, a national media service for older adults.

Join us in welcoming:

Pareesa Charmchi, State Advocacy Manager, Children’s Health Initiative and Jessie Zimmerer, State Advocacy Manager, Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation

We are delighted to share the following promotions:

Dara Taylor to Director, Diversity & Inclusion (in addition to her role as Director of Consumer Assistance); Carrie Rogers to Project Manager, Expanding Coverage Through Consumer Assistance; Ana Maria De la Rosa to Senior State Advocacy Manager, Substance Use Disorders and Justice-Involved Populations; Marissa Korn to Program and Advocacy Associate, State Consumer Health Advocacy Project; Emily Polak to Program Director, State Consumer Health Advocacy Project; and Orla Kennedy to Policy Analyst, Substance Use Disorders Project and Justice-Involved Populations

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