Monday, November 18, 2013

CSW Policy Briefs 2013: Women’s Reproductive Health Policy in California

Because CSW is dedicated to supporting research that promotes social justice and equality and to fostering outstanding applied feminist scholarship by graduate students, we initiated a new series of publications to address policy issues in our mission areas of gender, sexuality, and women's issues. The latest compilation of policy briefs includes policy recommendations related to the Covered California, the health exchange set up in California to implement the Federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), known as “Obamacare.” The ACA was enacted in an effort by the federal government to move towards universal healthcare coverage, including healthcare access for all income levels and employment statuses. Although the rollout of ACA and Covered California (California’s health exchange) have been subjected to criticism from some quarters, CSW believes the Covered California provides an opportunity to improve women’s health status throughout the state. To address the need for comprehensive policies that are sensitive to the needs of women, CSW chose “Women’s Reproductive Health Policy in California” for our third volume in a series of publications rethinking public policy on gender, sexuality, and women’s issues. We partnered with Julie Elginer, an esteemed health policy advocate and a Teaching Associate for Master’s-level courses at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, in developing the theme and attracting submissions from graduate students.

The first brief by Jennifer Frehn M.P.H., a UCLA Fielding School of Public Health 2013 alumna, Enhancing Access to Prenatal Care Within the California Health Exchange, calls for the implementation of a “prenatal specialist” curriculum amongst the responsibilities of the third-party navigators who will be hired by the state to assist pregnant women in enrolling in California’s Health Benefits Exchange program. The exchange program provides coverage for prenatal and newborn care; however the efficacy of the program is contingent upon “the ability of the navigators to help pregnant women to take immediate and full advantage of new and existing services.” Read more here. 

Karen Lai, a dual degree M.P.H. candidate at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and an M.D. student at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine, critiques the ACA segment that mandates state-based health insurance “exchanges to offer insurance coverage of FDA-approved contraceptives without extra costs to the enrollee” to include low-income women. In Universal Access to Contraceptives under Covered California will Improve Women’s Reproductive Health, Lai suggests to “strategically position navigators (enrollment helpers) to focus resources on the most unreached and/or high-risk communities.”  Read more here.

“Despite the established connection between poor maternal oral health and preterm birth, there is no requirement for dental services to be included,” amongst the list of health services that must be covered by insurers. Katsume Stoneham, also a UCLA Fielding School of Public Health 2013 alumna, vigorously argues for preventative dental care to be included as a priority health service that insurers must cover in her brief Including Preventive Dental Services in Maternal and Newborn Care will Improve Health Outcomes. Read more here. 

The last of the briefs in this set, titled Improving Maternal Depression Screening and Treatment for Pregnant Women by Echo Zen, a current M.P.H. student in the Field School of Public Health, brings into focus an important perinatal mental health issue, which often goes ignored-maternal depression. Zen argues the dangerous risks of untreated maternal depression, and its disproportionate impact on low-income women. He recommends incentivizing regular screenings by clinicians, crisis hotlines, and availability of screening tools. Read more here.

These briefs will be distributed widely to agencies, legislators, organizations, and interested parties and will contribute to public dialogue on a topic vital to the welfare of all of us. We hope also that those involved with the Affordable Care Act, Covered California, and similar healthcare exchanges will consider the arguments of this group of highly promising scholars. If put into practice, their ideas would certainly improve the overall health of women in California and the U.S.

--Radhika Mehlotra

Radhika Mehlotra is a graduate student in the Luskin School of Public Policy and a graduate student researcher at UCLA
To access all the CSW Policy Briefs on the eScholarship Repository on the California Digital Library site, visit: CSW CDL Policy Briefs

All the briefs are also available on the CSW website: CSW Policy Briefs 2013

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