I haven’t been feeling well lately, and last week I whined about it to my partner. I’ve been tired, forgetful, and possibly a bit grumpy. “Why don’t you make a doctor’s appointment?” he asked. As I started to list off the myriad reasons a trip to the white coats wasn’t in the cards, I paused to ask myself, why won’t I go?
Across the country women are avoiding the doctor’s office in increasing numbers. For many– especially the 20% of women who are uninsured and the many more who rely on Medicaid– forgoing medical care is a financial decision (especially since state lawmakers decided not to expand Medicaid). But among the insured and financially-stable population, why are women skipping routine appointments and preventative care in much higher numbers than men?
There are a number of reasons. I don’t go to the doctor because of logistics. For me, heading in for a checkup means finding a babysitter or toting along a 4-year-old hellbent on the destruction of all medical supplies. According to a report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 15% of women shirk the doctor because of problems with childcare. Among low-income women, that number grows to nearly 20% who have to choose between caring for themselves or staying home to care for their children.
Women also face transportation issues in higher numbers than men, and more than a quarter of low-income women say they can’t get time off for a well woman visit, dentist checkup, or something more dire. Women of childbearing age, and those who work in blue collar jobs, have increased needs for medical care. In addition to all our reproductive system medical needs, women have high rates of heart disease, obesity, and even work-related injuries.
Those who do make it to the doctor for a checkup then get saddled with onerous bills, prescriptions for drugs they can’t afford, and appointments for follow-up visits they can’t make it back to. Thirty-two percent of women are currently paying off medical bills.
I am among the millions of women with medical debt. I still have to pay off $2,000 or so from my tonsillectomy, and I’m not keen to owe any more. So when I asked myself, “why not go to the doctor?” the answer was that I was afraid of what I would find out. Would it be another multi-thousand-dollar surgery, or a prescription for a maintenance medication that would top $100 a month?
Ultimately I packed up my 4-year-old and headed in. We sat in an empty exam room for an hour with no entertainment, then once again waited for blood work. Two days later I found myself cursing and praising my partner in equal amounts. A simple blood test revealed a dysfunction with my thyroid, and I’ve been able to begin the generic form of a medication for $10 a month. I’m glad for the relief the drug provides, but I’m still not any more likely to head off to a doctor at the first sniffle or cough. It’s just too complicated.