BY MARY PARRY The NC Women’s Summit took place on October 15th at UNC-CH, as a collaboration of Women AdvaNCe and the Southern Oral History Program at UNC-CH. Women from counties across the state joined together to discuss what’s at stake for North Carolina women and families.
The state of women’s healthcare in North Carolina feels a lot like the board game Chutes and Ladders. While we’re making great strides, we’re also experiencing significant back-slides. While the federal government opens up doors to allow more of us to get the care we need, the state government has limited women’s healthcare options—including the programs serving our state’s most vulnerable families. At the NC Women’s Summit, Dr. Lisa Levenstein of UNC-Greensboro moderated a panel of experts who discussed what’s going on with healthcare in North Carolina and what each of us can do to get our state back on track.
Let’s start with the good news! For those who qualify for insurance through the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), Enroll America’s Sorien Schmidt offered five important facts:
- Uninsured or underinsured people under age 65 are able to enroll for insurance at www.healthcare.gov in the new health insurance marketplace, where you can compare plans through March 31, 2014.
- These plans are required by law to cover your health insurance needs like maternity care, mental health screenings, and substance abuse.
- Financial help is available and there is security in place to keep your personal information private.
- Free expert advice is available online, over the phone, and in-person across the state. Call this toll free number to get started: 855-733-3711.
- Pre-existing conditions can no longer prevent you from getting coverage.
Paige Johnson of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina affirms, “Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition. It is truly landmark legislation in this country.”
Unfortunately, not everyone has access to affordable healthcare– at least not in North Carolina, where our state legislators rejected federal funds that would have provided coverage for over half-million North Carolinians by expanding Medicaid. Levenstein says that because North Carolina turned down those federal funds, 22% of women in our state will remain uninsured. Compare this back-slide to states like Colorado, Michigan, and Ohio, where leaders expanded Medicaid and can offer coverage to everyone. Plus, if North Carolina had expanded Medicaid, we would have only paid 10-cents for every dollar of expansion costs. The federal government would cover the rest.
Adding insult to injury, NC legislators crafted new laws that introduce strict regulations on women’s health centers, where so many women go to access a variety of affordable healthcare needs, including birth control, breast exams, and other health screenings. These clinics also provide the few abortion care services available in North Carolina. “Reproductive healthcare options are shrinking for women in our state,” says Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director at NARAL Pro-Choice NC. “The decisions of anti-choice politicians could impact the ability of these women’s centers to provide important coverage for women and families.”
Perhaps instead of imposing new regulations on women’s health clinics, legislators should be focusing on regulating the chemicals and toxicants blanketing Eastern North Carolina. “Hundreds of thousands of fields in North Carolina are being sprayed with hog waste, which contains contaminants like metal, hydrogen sulfide, and ammonia,” says Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson, a historian at Bennett College. “You can detect the smell when you’re in these areas. These are carcinogens and they are pervasive in our state, affecting the life and health of North Carolina women and families.”
Helping North Carolinians manage their health is critical to the future of our state, according to Duke University historian Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell. “Ten-percent of our population is diagnosed with diabetes,” says Greenlee-Donnell. “A large percentage of our population has STDs. These are not areas we want to lead in.”
Dr. Amy Tiemann, author and Women AdvaNCe board member, addressed domestic violence as another widespread threat to North Carolina women’s health. The 2013 Status of Women Report for North Carolina showed that in the span of just one year, domestic violence programs served over 61,000 clients. The vast majority of these clients are women. “All of these issues are linked,” says Tiemann. “Lack of healthcare is also a form of violence against women.”
Panelists agreed that in order to create change in our state, women need to join the conversation and let elected officials know where they stand on these issues. North Carolina legislators still have time to change their minds and allow the expansion of Medicaid to reach those of us who lack insurance coverage. “Every insured person pays for emergency room patients who are uninsured,” said Paige Johnson. “We’re all in this together. Let your elected officials know that expanding Medicaid will help all of us.”
Here are a few other ways panelists suggested taking action:
- Sign up for e-mail alerts through organizations;
- Use social media to share information with others.
- Attend conferences and information sessions;
- Talk to friends and family about these issues.
- Help organizations make a difference by offering donations and volunteering;
- Write letters to your newspaper;
- Call legislators;
- Attend rallies.
- Understand the power of your vote – women make up 54% of the electorate in North Carolina.
- Understand the power of local elections – many important decisions are made at the local level.
START YOUR OWN ADVANCE TEAM
- Follow Women AdvaNCe with your friends and meet monthly to take action together– register your AdvaNCe Team today.
The numbers are on the side of women, according to Buckley, who offered poll results from March 2013: “76% of North Carolinians believe that women’s healthcare decisions should be made by women, not politicians.” So consider speaking up for women’s health. Do it for every daughter, mother, and grandmother in our state – for our most vulnerable populations. Tell them to stop playing games with our health. More voices from women will make a difference.
Suzanne Buckley, Executive Director of NARAL Pro–Choice North Carolina
Dr. Lisa Levenstein, Associate Professor of History at UNC-Greensboro
Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell, PhD candidate at Duke University
Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson, Mott Distinguished Professor of Women’s Studies and Director of Africana Women’s Studies at Bennett College
Sorien Schmidt, Executive Director of Enroll America
Paige Johnson, VP External Affairs of Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina Carolina
Dr. Amy Tiemann, award winning author, Women AdvaNCe Board Member