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Senior: State receives 'unsatisfactory' mark for women's health

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Wisconsin receives an overall "unsatisfactory" mark on women's health and ranks No. 21 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, a comprehensive analysis of state policies and women's health status finds.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Wisconsin receives an overall "unsatisfactory" mark on women's health and ranks No. 21 among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, a comprehensive analysis of state policies and women's health status finds.

Released this week, Making the Grade for Women's Health: A National and State-by-State Report Card is the fourth in a series of triennial reports to grade and rank each state based on 27 health status benchmarks developed using goals set by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Healthy People 2010 initiative.

The report examines 63 key policies in every state to determine whether they are adequate to address women's health concerns. Making the Grade is a project of the National Women's Law Center and Oregon Health & Science University.

Wisconsin receives "fail" marks on 10 of 27 benchmarks. It receives "satisfactory" or "satisfactory minus" on 10 benchmarks and "unsatisfactory" on the remaining seven.

Among the many troubling regressions in the status of women's health in Wisconsin and the nation are increasing obesity rates and diabetes rates. The percent of women who are obese increased in all states. It is the only status indicator in which every state declined since 2004.

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In Wisconsin, the percent of women who are obese is 23.5 percent, slightly less than the national average of 24 percent. Such a high rate has serious consequences for women's health since obesity is often associated with other illnesses.

Nationally, the percentage of women with diabetes also increased: 46 states, including Wisconsin, performed worse. The percentage of women in Wisconsin with diabetes increased from 5.3 percent to 6.3 percent.

The National Picture

Making the Grade gives the nation an overall grade of "unsatisfactory" for meeting only three of 27 benchmarks -- the percentage of women 40 and over who receive regular mammograms, the percentage of women who annually see a dentist, and the percentage of women 50 and over who receive screenings for colorectal cancer.

Making the Grade finds the status of a woman's health varies greatly depending on where she lives.

Hawaii has the lowest percent of women who are obese at 16.7 percent while Mississippi fares worst on obesity, with 31.5 percent of women classified as obese. Wisconsin ranks No. 25.

Utah ranks best on percent of women with high blood pressure at 19.2 percent. Mississippi fares worst at 34.4 percent. Wisconsin ranks No. 27 in this indicator with 25.3 percent of women afflicted with high blood pressure.

On diabetes, Minnesota ranks best, with 4.3 percent of women reporting they have diabetes. At the bottom is West Virginia at 11.1 percent. Wisconsin ranks No. 12 in this indicator.

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Given that women need better access to care, Making the Grade focuses on health insurance coverage and access, particularly on those policies that improve or weaken Medicaid coverage.

Nationwide, 18 percent of women ages 18-64 are uninsured.

This is up by about 1 percent since 2004. No state meets the Healthy People 2010 goal of access to health insurance, but Wisconsin is doing better than the national average with 10 percent of women uninsured.

In 2007, five states decreased Medicaid eligibility levels for working parents, making it more difficult for low-income women who don't receiving coverage through their employer to access health care.

Nationally, 11.5 percent of the population lives in medically underserved areas. Wisconsin ranks No. 24 in this indicator with 10.4 percent of its population living in medically underserved areas.

The report also measures women's health by examining their economic security. Little progress has been made in this area.

Only Washington and Oregon have a minimum wage that allows a family of three to reach the federal poverty threshold of $16,079.

Nationwide, the percentage of women in poverty is slightly up compared with 2004, from 12 percent to 12.6 percent. Wisconsin ranks No. 15 in this indicator with 10.4 percent of women living in poverty, up from 8.3 percent in 2004.

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While the wage gap has improved since 2004, it is still substantial: Women earn 77 percent of what men earn compared with 72.7 percent in 2004. Wisconsin ranks No. 36 in this indicator with women earning only 72.9 percent of what men earn.

Making the Grade's evaluation of state policies important for women's health found that only two policies goals were met by all states: Medicaid coverage for breast and cervical cancer treatment and participation in the Food Stamp Nutrition and Education program.

Twenty states require insurers to cover colorectal cancer screenings -- three more than 2004. Wisconsin does not meet this policy.

Eleven states, compared to eight in 2004 mandate coverage for osteoporosis screening. Wisconsin does not meet this policy.

Only 20 states -- one less than in 2004 -- require private insurers to cover annual mammograms for women over 40. Wisconsin has a limited policy.

Twenty-seven states now meet the policy goal of requiring that private insurers cover contraceptives, up from 20 in 2004. Wisconsin meets this policy.

To learn more about how Wisconsin or the nation fares on critical health status indicators and policies, go to the Web site at http://hrc.nwlc.org .

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