First lecture in diversity series discusses women's health care

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 | 9:23 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — In Missouri, 74 percent of Medicaid users are women, meaning they are disproportionately affected by changes in health care policy.

That number means women use health care services the most, so whether they can consistently access this care plays a role in their overall well-being, assistant teaching professor in MU's School of Nursing Kristin Metcalf-Wilson told about a dozen people who listened to her speak in Memorial Union on Wednesday.

Metcalf-Wilson's presentation kicked off  MU's "Diversity in Action: Bridging Research and Practice" series. Lecture coordinator Yuan Gao said the purpose of the lecture series is to highlight diversity-related research and see how it applies in policy making.

Metcalf-Wilson spoke about her extensive research on the status of women's health in the state of Missouri and its impact on the state's economy.

In conjunction with Women's Policy Alliance and MU's Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis, Metcalf-Wilson helped to compile the Missouri Women's Report in 2011. Throughout her talk, Metcalf-Wilson touched on a few issues the study covered, such as women in poverty and its relation to health care access and personal well-being.

"I've worked as a health care provider in several different states, and when I came to Missouri, I recognized that the women I served needed a voice," Metcalf-Wilson said.

After the report began circulating, she personally distributed hard copies of the document to legislators across the state.

"I'm excited to continue to get out word about the report," Metcalf-Wilson said. "You can use this to help argue your points on policy and to see where women are at."

One key issue Metcalf-Wilson discussed was women's access to health care and their subsequent use of those resources.

"Insurance — including Medicaid — coverage is a key indicator for access and utilization," she said. "Women who lack consistent coverage are more likely to go without preventative, basic and even acute care."

More than 33 percent of the state's working poor are without health insurance because they make too much to qualify for Medicaid but do not make enough to afford private insurance, she said.

"When women do not have access to health services, it has an impact on the rest of their lives," she said, "specifically in the area of reproductive health."

The best case scenario for the state, Metcalf-Wilson said, would have only 10 percent to 25 percent of working age women who are living in poverty or near the poverty level without insurance.

She also said many women between age 55 and 65 can no longer afford private insurance but must wait until age 65 to qualify for Medicaid.

"They're ticking time bombs," she said, adding that older women face issues younger women do not, such as injury because of aging bones.

Keeping access issues like these in mind, she explored women's use of reproductive services such as contraception and abortion, as well as preventative care for breast cancer and diabetes. 

Mohammad Saleh, a senior who is double majoring in health sciences and biology, was one of several students who was at the lecture. Although he attended as an extra credit opportunity, Saleh said he thought the issues raised were important and something he is interested in.

"I have lived in another country, so I tend to compare and contrast how the United States is doing," Saleh said. "Other countries aren't as good when it comes to health care, and we tend to take it for granted here."

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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