Experts Recommend Expanding Women’s Healthcare Coverage

In 2012 the Institute of Medicine (IoM) – now known as the National Academy of Medicine – compiled a list of eight recommended preventative healthcare services that insurance providers should provide for women without requiring them to pay money out of pocket. These services included routine STD screenings, breastfeeding support and supplies, FDA-approved methods of contraception and treatments for domestic violence and gestational diabetes. Today, most healthcare plans are required to cover these services without charging copays.

When the IoM published its recommendations, it also advised that the list should be updated at least every five years to keep in step with the current scientific knowledge. Now, the group has drafted a second updated list which adds a number of other preventative healthcare services to its list of services that should be covered free of charge.

Foremost among these services are regular breast cancer screenings. Under the new guidelines, women age 40 an older would be eligible for free mammograms every one to two years. Follow-up tests and procedures such as biopsies would also be covered if a mammogram were to uncover evidence of cancer growth.

In fact, the new list recommends that a wide variety of follow-up procedures should be covered without copays as well. This way, if a preventative healthcare service were to uncover a potentially serious health issue, women wouldn’t be forced to pay for additional testing out of pocket. The list also recommends covering contraception methods for men such as condoms and vasectomies. This would allow women and their male partners to take more complete control of their contraceptive options, without having to worry about expensive insurance fees.

The group is expected to submit its final recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services by December 1, 2016. If the proposed changes are adopted by the end of the year, they would go into effect for most insurance plans in 2018.

United Nations Urges Countries to Repeal Anti-Abortion Laws

Here in the United States, we’re fortunate that a woman’s right to an abortion has been protected by the Supreme Court ruling of Roe v. Wade for over four decades. In other countries like Poland and Northern Ireland, however, women can still face stiff prison sentences for seeking abortions. As a result, women in these countries are sometimes forced to travel hundreds of miles into other countries to receive abortions. In other cases, women turn to dangerous clandestine methods of abortion instead.

Now, the United Nations is calling on countries all over the world to repeal restrictive abortion legislation in an effort to protect the lives of their female citizens.

The UN Human Rights Council estimates that unsafe abortions claim the lives of roughly 50,000 women every year. Most of these dangerous procedures occur in places where abortion is criminalized by law. Rather than reducing abortion rates, this type of restrictive legislation merely forces women to undergo dangerous methods of abortion in secret. In fact, the UN notes that countries where abortion is legal and contraceptives are readily available have some of the lowest abortion rates in the world. Unfortunately, restrictive abortion laws still affect approximately 40 percent of the world’s population.

The UN didn’t pull any punches in their report, arguing that “restrictive legislation which denies access to safe abortion is one of the most damaging ways of instrumentalizing women’s bodies and a grave violation of women’s human rights.”

They also noted that the consequences of these laws are severe, potentially costing tens of thousands of women their lives each year. In light of the overwhelming evidence that criminalizing abortion does more harm than good, the UN is urging countries to revise their legislation and provide women with access to safe methods of abortion.

“The possibility of accessing safe abortion remains essential,” wrote the human rights experts in their report. “Unwanted pregnancies cannot be totally prevented since no contraceptive method is 100 percent effective, and women may be exposed to sexual violence.”

It’s time for state legislatures to stop making policies based on antiquated dogmas, and recognize that anti-abortion laws pose a very real threat to the health and well-being of women. Hopefully with the backing of the United Nations Human Rights Council, lawmakers who advocate for abortion rights in places like Poland will finally be able to make headway towards the repeal of these dangerous, misguided laws.

Progesterone Could Help Relieve Effects of Influenza

The fall is the beginning of the flu season, and for many people, the flu may not seem like an immediate threat. But this highly-contagious virus can make even the strongest of us sick for many days, and cause even more serious complications for the young and the elderly, not to mention people with compromised immune systems.

Luckily, according to Medical Daily, scientists may have discovered a new way to fend off flu symptoms. Progesterone, which is a hormone found in most hormone-based birth control, can actually help promote lung healing and reduce lung inflammation in patients who are affected by a flu virus.

Mice that were infected with influenza and also had progesterone implants showed less inflammation in the lungs and better lung function than mice without the implants, according to the study done by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland. The increased progesterone levels allowed the mice to produce proteins that helped to heal the damaged lining in the lungs quicker.

Researchers and scientists believe that this effect could apply to humans as well. Women who are taking hormone-based birth control may be better able to combat the effects of the flu, like damage to the lining in the lungs, due to the higher levels of progesterone present in the body. While there aren’t many studies being done on this particular subject just yet, Johns Hopkins researchers hope to spend more time and resources examining the positive impacts of hormone-based contraceptives on the human body in the future.

If the studies prove promising, this could provide women with one more reason to add hormone-based birth control to their health regimens. For more information about contraception, or any of the other services and procedures we offer at South Avenue Women’s Services, give us a call or contact us online today.

Birth Control Use Linked to Drop in Ovarian Cancer Deaths

There’s plenty of conflicting information out there today about birth control, and not all of it is advice worth listening to. Amid all of these confusing stories and myths, though, comes an interesting and well-documented study that links oral contraceptive use to a drop in the number of deaths caused by ovarian cancer.

According to The Guardian, academics in Italy have concluded that there’s a positive correlation between the increased use of birth control pills and a decline in deaths caused by ovarian cancer in recent years. A decline in long-term hormone replacement therapy, which has been largely replaced with birth control use to combat symptoms of menopause, also seems to be a factor.

The general consensus seems to be that the past ten years has been a game changer for birth control. More people have access, more people are taking it regularly, and more people are talking about it. Apparently, the increasingly widespread usage of oral contraceptives has had more positive results than just a reduction in unplanned pregnancies.

In the European Union, deaths from ovarian cancer fell about 10 percent overall between 2002 and 2012, according to the Italian study. That’s the average for all 28 countries in the EU. Scientists and researchers involved in the study believe that the widespread availability of birth control is what led to the drop in deaths, which fell by as much as 24 percent in countries like Sweden. Variances in the percentage decreases between countries are likely caused by differences in insurance, ease of access, and a few other factors, but overall the statistics definitely show a promising pattern.

Women who were most directly affected fell in the 20 to 49 age range, though older women have also experienced lower rates of death caused by ovarian cancer in recent years. Now, the scientists and researchers involved in the study hope to continue their work to pinpoint exactly why an increase in birth control use has had this effect.

Want to learn more about contraception, or any of the other procedures and services we offer at South Avenue Women’s Services? Contact us online, or give us call today for more information!

Pregnancy-Related Deaths Spike in Texas After Funding Cuts

In 2011, the Texas State Legislature voted to cut funding for family planning clinics by 66 percent statewide. Following the budget cuts, 82 family planning clinics were forced to close. Then, in January 2013, Texas eliminated Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid program. At the time, many public health officials raised concerns that the budget cuts would have an adverse effect on the health of women in Texas, particularly those in low income brackets. Now, five years after the first round of budget cuts, a study published in the September issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology seems to confirm these fears.

Between 2000 and 2010, the authors of the study found that Texas experienced a “modest increase” in maternal mortality. Between 2011 and 2012, however, pregnancy-related mortality rates in the Lone Star State nearly doubled. Whereas 72 women in Texas died from pregnancy-related complications in 2010, 148 died from the same types of complications in 2012. The research team that conducted the study described this sudden and dramatic increase as “puzzling,” and noted that similar trends were not seen in data from the other 49 states.

While the researchers who conducted the study acknowledge that the funding cuts in 2011 and 2013 are at least partially responsible for the increase in mortality rates, they note that the figures are too extreme to be explained by budget cuts alone.

“In the absence of war, natural disaster, or severe economic upheaval, the doubling of a mortality rate within a 2-year period in a state with almost 400,000 annual births seems unlikely,” write the researchers in their commentary.

Since the report was published, the Texas Department of Health has formed a task force to investigate the root cause of the issue. Thus far, they have failed to identify a cause or offer recommendations to remedy the problem.

Free App Helps Women Screen for Reproductive Health Issues

Here at South Avenue Women’s Services, we’re dedicated to ensuring that the women in the Rochester area receive the healthcare they need and deserve. Today, we’d like to tell you about a new app called Flutter which can help women perform a self-screening for a serious disease called endometriosis, and seek proper treatment.

Endometriosis is a disease that occurs when the tissue that is typically found on the inside lining of the uterus is also found on the outside of the uterus – on the ovaries, fallopian tubes or other areas. The tissue develops into growths or cysts that respond to the same cycle as the typical menstrual system; it builds up, breaks down and sheds once per month. But unlike the lining on the inside of the uterus, it has no way of leaving the body safely, so it stays there. This disease affects over 6 million women in the US, and can be extremely painful, and cause infertility and scar tissue formation.

Unfortunately, endometriosis is very difficult to diagnose.

In some cases, it can take up to ten years for a woman to be correctly diagnosed with endometriosis and receive proper treatment. Flutter aims to drastically shorten that wait time. By tracking your periods, pain levels, type of pain, mood swings and other symptoms, it can help you determine whether you might be suffering from this disease. When it comes time to see your physician, all you need to do is tap “export,” and all of the data you’ve collected will be saved to a PDF for your doctor to view during your visit.

According to Endometriosis News, app developer Kristy Curry wants Flutter to make women to feel “empowered, proactive, and most of all, supportive.” She hopes that the long years of painful periods and guesswork will be a thing of the past for sufferers of this disease.

For more information on Flutter, check out Kristy’s story. If you suffer from painful periods, download the Flutter app to track your symptoms and talk to your regular OBGYN, or make an appointment right here at the South Avenue Women’s Services today.

Democrats Move to Repeal the Hyde Amendment

A law that once had widespread bipartisan support in Congress is now being challenged by some Democrats, including presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. It’s called the Hyde Amendment, and it prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape or incest, and cases where a woman’s life is in danger.

The Hyde Amendment is a legislative provision that was originally approved in 1967, and has been renewed annually ever since. It was designed to prevent taxpayers who oppose abortion from having to subsidize it. Because the Hyde Amendment prohibits Medicaid-funded abortions, however, opponents of the law argue that it unfairly discriminates against low-income women.

“Access to abortion shouldn’t depend on your zip code, and it shouldn’t depend on your pocketbook,” said Nancy Northrop, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights in a statement.

In fact, the bill was aimed at low-income women from the start. Henry Hyde, the Republican Congressman from Illinois who first sponsored the amendment, acknowledged that he would prefer to prohibit abortion altogether, but could only realistically expect to ban abortions funded by Medicaid. In a statement to Congress in 1977, Hyde said the following:

“I certainly would like to prevent, if I could legally, anybody having an abortion, a rich woman, a middle-class woman or a poor woman. Unfortunately, the only vehicle available is the [Medicaid] bill.”

This sentiment is especially troubling when you consider that roughly half of all the women who had abortions in 2014 were living below the federal poverty line. This suggests that thousands more women have been forced to carry unintended pregnancies to term simply because they couldn’t afford to have an abortion.

The Democrats who are calling for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment acknowledge that their efforts will probably take a while to gain traction in Congress. In spite of the challenges ahead, they remain committed to eliminating the restrictive legislation that specifically targets disadvantaged women.

ACOG Makes Case for Postpartum Long Acting Birth Control

Earlier this week, the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ACOG) published a recommendation that hospitals should begin offering all women access to long acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) options immediately after giving birth. Currently, many physicians wait to discuss birth control options with new mothers until they return for their postpartum follow-up visit. Unfortunately, this approach can present a number of issues.

To begin with, the ACOG estimates that up to 40 percent of women miss their postpartum follow-up appointments. In other cases, women may lose insurance between the time they give birth and the time of their follow-up appointment. By counseling women on birth control options before their discharged after giving birth, these barriers could be eliminated, at least in part.

The ACOG advises that long term birth control options such as implants and IUDs are the most effective ways to prevent short-interval pregnancies (pregnancies that occur within 1 year of delivery). Short-interval pregnancies are associated with a higher risk of preterm birth and neonatal complications. Furthermore, the ACOG estimates that at least 70 percent of short-interval pregnancies are unintended.

Although IUD expulsion rates are higher in cases of immediate postpartum insertion, the authors of the ACOG’s recommendation write that “the advantages of immediate placement outweigh the disadvantages.” The authors also encourage obstetricians to “advocate for appropriate reimbursement for immediate postpartum LARC insertion,” so that it doesn’t place an undue financial burden on new mothers.

In the past, many insurance companies failed to cover the cost of providing contraception during hospital stays following labor and delivery. Recently, however, that’s begun to change. Today Medicaid, which pays for approximately half of all births in the U.S., covers long acting contraceptives after delivery in at least 20 states.

New York Finally Repeals Tax on Tampons

Starting on September 1, 2016, women in New York will no longer have to contend with a sexist tax on feminine hygiene products like tampons, sanitary napkins and panty liners. This tax on feminine products has been in effect since New York first adopted a sales tax in 1965. Other products such as condoms and Rogaine, were notably exempt from the tax. Politicians and women’s rights advocates in New York are hailing the elimination of the tax as a long-overdue step in the right direction.

“This is a regressive tax on essential products that women have had to pay for far too long and lifting it is a matter of social and economic justice,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a press release.

Just a week before Governor Cuomo signed the legislation to repeal the tampon tax, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed a bill that will provide free tampons and pads to public schools, homeless shelters and jails throughout the city.

At the beginning of this year, 40 states had taxes on menstrual products. Since then, 15 states have introduced legislation or sparked legislative debates that aim to eliminate these taxes. It’s a key component of a nationwide push to destigmatize menstruation and eliminate barriers to feminine products.

In the words of State Assembly Member Linda B. Rosenthal, “The signing of this bill into law represents a new dawn. Women statewide will no longer be burdened by a lingering tax that was levied at a time when women were not part of government and the decision-making process.”

Hopefully more states will follow suit and pass legislation to repeal their own taxes on feminine products sooner, rather than later.

Zika Bill Cuts Funding for Contraception

Since an outbreak of the Zika virus struck Brazil in early 2015, governments throughout the Western Hemisphere have begun developing response plans and allotting funds to combat the virus’s spread. Because Zika poses the greatest threat to pregnant women, health officials have advised legislators that funding for reproductive health services must be a key component of these response plans.

Earlier this year, the Obama administration requested $1.9 billion in funding to fight the spread of Zika in the U.S. In late June, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a funding proposal drafted by members of the GOP that allotted just $1.1 billion toward efforts to fight the virus. In addition to cutting funding for contraception distribution, the proposal also prevents family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood from participating in the response.

Democrats in Congress have roundly criticized the cuts, particularly the elimination of $287 million for family planning and contraception, and an additional $101 million that was cut from teen pregnancy prevention programs. Instead of focusing on contraception and family planning, the GOP’s proposal devotes almost all of its funding toward mosquito control programs, vaccines and diagnostics. Prior to the House of Representatives’ vote on the proposal, the White House released a scathing critique of the bill as well.

“The plan from congressional Republicans is four months late and nearly a billion dollars short of what our public health experts have said is necessary to do everything possible to fight the Zika virus, and steals funding from other health priorities,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest in a statement.

The funding cuts are an unfortunate – and all-too-familiar – case of partisan politics taking priority over women’s health. Short of a full-blown public health crisis, it’s unclear what it will take for members of the GOP to address reproductive health issues in a realistic and reasonable manner.