April 16, 2020
Across the United States, women can face a variety of health challenges. They may not be able to get the necessary time off from their employer to spend with a newborn child; they may lack health insurance or the money to get vaccinations, immunizations, and other crucial health services; and they may not be aware of, or know how to address, the unique illnesses and health conditions that women can face.
In Louisiana, women can encounter even more health issues. A large part of the state’s residents live in rural areas and often don't have access to necessary healthcare services. Also, Louisiana’s poverty rate is higher than the national average, and its residents may not be able to afford certain healthcare services. According to United Health Foundation’s 2018 annual report that ranks the healthiest states, Louisiana comes in at 50th. The report says the state faces significant health challenges, such as high obesity rates, smoking, children in poverty, and frequent mental and physical distress.
The health challenges women in Louisiana face are real and significant. But there are practitioners, services, tips, and resources that women in this state can use to live their healthiest lives.
Although there are several services and resources that can help women across Louisiana, it’s important to first understand the complex health issues these women face.
The United Health Foundation’s report notes that there are 271.9 mental health providers for every 100,000 members of the state’s population—higher than the national average of 234.7 providers.
According to 2017 data from the Kaiser Family Foundation and estimates from the 2017 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 10% of women in Louisiana did not have health insurance. For the population that was insured, 53% received health insurance through employer-sponsored coverage, 8% through direct purchase, 25% through Medicaid, and 4% through other services.
There are some areas where women’s health in Louisiana is making strides. For example, the United Health Foundation’s 2018 report states that Louisiana women aged 13-17 have higher immunization against HPV than the national average. This higher rate may be attributed to increased efforts by physicians across the state to provide vaccinations, according to a report from the Journal of Louisiana State Medical Society.
But women in the state still face significant challenges involving their health, accessibility to services, and ability to afford treatment. The National Partnership for Women & Families has reported that women in Louisiana face a significant pay gap, earning an average of 69 cents for every dollar earned by a man for full-time, year-round work.
Louisiana women seeking an abortion may face more challenges than many seeking similar services in other states. According to a 2018 fact sheet from the Guttmacher Institute, women in Louisiana would not be able to get an abortion if Roe v. Wade was overturned. Additionally, they must receive counseling from the state, undergo a 24-hour waiting period, and have an ultrasound. Even after meeting all these requirements, the procedure itself may not be covered depending on the type of insurance the patient has.
Women in Louisiana may also face higher mortality rates due to health afflictions that primarily affect women. Black women in Louisiana face a higher rate of breast cancer than both white women in the state and black women nationwide, according to a report from the Louisiana Comprehensive Cancer Control Program. Black women in Louisiana also had a higher breast cancer mortality rate than black women across the country or white women in Louisiana and across the United States. Additionally, the state had the second highest rate of cervical cancer and the ninth highest mortality rate from the illness, according to a 2017 report form the Louisiana Tumor Registry.
There are also mental health challenges that women in Louisiana can face. According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), disorders like anxiety or depression are more common in women than in men. For example, “Some women may experience symptoms of mental disorders at times of hormone change, such as perinatal depression, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, and perimenopause-related depression,” the NIMH states.
Additionally, mental health conditions may be under diagnosed in women, possibly due to their reluctance to seek help, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). “Gender specific risk factors for common mental disorders that disproportionately affect women include gender-based violence, socioeconomic disadvantage, low income and income inequality, low or subordinate social status and rank, and unremitting responsibility for the care of others,” the WHO notes.
Another factor that may impact the mental health of Louisiana women is the state's poverty rate, which was the highest in the country for working age women in 2018 at 21.3%, according to the Center for American Progress’ Talk Poverty website.
While the statistical analysis of statewide health standards may seem disheartening, there are still ways to prevent becoming a part of those statistics and improve those statistics for the future. Below are steps that Louisiana women can take to improve their health.
Louisiana ranked sixth in the country for teen birth rate in 2016, with black women accounting for around half of all teenage births in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Additionally, the state doesn't require that schools teach sexual health education, according to a fact sheet from the Louisiana Public Health Institute. This means that women who attend schools that don't provide this education may not receive information on sexual and reproductive health.
However, there are other ways for adolescent Louisiana women to learn about sexual and reproductive health. The Louisiana Reproductive Health Program provides education and resources on its website and at clinics state-wide on subjects like STIs and birth control. The Louisiana Health Department’s Bureau of Family Health also provides links to helpful resources on sexual assault, pregnancy monitoring, and other reproductive health topics. Additionally, Planned Parenthood has locations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans where women can access health information and services.
While the incidence or detection of breast cancer is low in women in their 20s and 30s, this is still a crucial time for Louisiana women to regularly receive mammograms. Additionally, because women in Louisiana have a higher mortality rate from cervical cancer, it’s important they are tested for this disease as well, which can be accomplished through a regular Pap smear.
The Louisiana Breast & Cervical Health Program provides health services, such as mammograms and Pap smears, at locations across the state. Women who don't have health insurance or can't afford these services, may be able to get them for free if they meet certain eligibility requirements, including age, income, and insurance guidelines.
Lung cancer is the cancer with the highest mortality rate for women in Louisiana. Women can work to prevent the disease by not smoking or using similar tobacco products. Quit With Us, Louisiana! offers a toll-free quit line, as well as other support resources for those who want to quit smoking.
Louisiana women in this age group also face the risk of lung cancer, but there are additional resources that can help them prevent it. The Smoking Cessation Trust offers free cessation services, support, and medication to Louisiana residents who smoked before September 1, 1988 (as of publishing).
In this age group, Louisiana women face a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer, making it more crucial they get mammograms every year. They should also get Pap smears once every three years. As Louisiana also ranks high for obesity, maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise is crucial as well.
While maintaining a healthy diet and exercise can help women in Louisiana reduce their risk of obesity, it can also help women in the 70 and older age group stay active and mentally alert. Additionally, it can help prevent and reduce symptoms of mental health conditions associated with older age.
At this age, women can also become more susceptible to ovarian cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, the causes of this cancer are unclear, but risks can include a history of breast or ovarian cancer, inherited gene mutations, and age when menstruation started or ended. Women should discuss ways to reduce their risk with a health practitioner.
Women who live in rural areas of Louisiana may not be able to conveniently access healthcare facilities or services. However, technology may provide some solutions. Telehealth makes it possible for patients to communicate with health providers, make appointments, get prescriptions, and receive other healthcare services. Telehealth services may be offered depending on a patient’s insurer, the clinic they wish to seek treatment from, or the particular type of physician.
The Louisiana Department of Health also offers resources for women on Medicaid. These include the LaMOMS program, which offers no-cost health coverage to pregnant women without insurance. The program also offers other treatments and services for unplanned pregnancies and breast and cervical cancer.
The healthcare challenges women in Louisiana face are significant, but there are health providers and staff dedicated to helping them. For those who want to make a positive impact on women in Louisiana, the question isn’t if they can help, it’s how.
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