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Physician investigates health care, gender

| Friday, December 4, 2015

As part of the Saint Mary’s Department of Justice Education symposium about different aspects of health care, Dr. Ellyn Stecker, a family physician, spoke on women’s health justice.  

DSC03538Caitlyn Jordan | The Observer

Dr. Ellyn Stecker speaks at the Saint Mary’s Health Care Justice Symposium in the Rice Commons Student Center.

Stecker started her presentation by emphasizing the importance of health care. Health care is a basic necessity for human survival, she said.

“It’s special because it requires a certain educated cooperation of group members,” Stecker said. “Health management is not always obvious or intuitive. Moreover, achieving good health affects not only one individual but also the entire group.”

Stecker said the U.S.has faced major problems with the way care has been divided in our health system.

“In the United States we have a hodgepodge of our health care system,” she said. “We don’t insure basic healthcare for everyone nor do we insure catastrophic care. What you get depends upon your sex, ethnicity, marital status, status as a citizen, immigrant or undocumented, faith, age and the availability of medical providers near you.”

The U.S. federal government offers programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Health Administration, Indian Health Service, volunteer clinics and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, she said, but does not have universal coverage.

“What we do not have, however, is universal health coverage, we are one of the few industrialized countries that does not,” Stecker said. “Attempts to improve coverage have always been foggy. Our goal is to have all people covered. The plan is still being implemented even as there are political actions to dismantle.”

Before the Affordable Care Act, the month after students graduated, they were generally not covered under a parent’s or school’s insurance, she said.

“If you bought your own insurance as a woman, you often paid a higher rate then men,” she said. “Things are better for your generation than they were in the 1960s. Women now have a much better chance to enroll in college. … However, we are not yet finished with those years of prior, lame discrimination.

“In your family or in your work, you might care for women who took time out of the labor force who cared for children or other family members and who did not have access to a college education, may have been forced to quit working when they married or lost their job when World War II ended and the men came back and took all of the jobs back,” Stecker said.

“People do not get social security credits for society care work. Women have done a greater part of that work and both social security or competent pension is not as great as [for] a man in the same age group. Thus, older women have not benefited as much from the pay equity legislation that got passed and they are living out the reality of hundreds of thousands of dollars [in] pay difference.”

Stecker said in the past year, LGBTQ partners have benefited from their partner’s pension, medical insurance and social security benefits.

“When people are married and have those benefits, health is better,” Stecker said. “With these changes in the way we treat LGBT individuals, the most pressing argument in the medical community, and in the discussions that I had, it wasn’t a matter of what is right, what is wrong. Health is better for the families and for the children in those families.

“Good health is a mixture of heredity, nutrition, nurture, location and avoidance of toxins. … And then there’s luck,” Stecker said. “Some things we have control over and those are the things we should manage in a good way. If we need less care, then there is more care for others. If we need more care, then we can be most grateful that we have access.”

Stecker said the U.S. spends more money on health care than other countries but does not have the best health outcomes overall nor cover everyone that needs to be covered.

“Is universal access necessary for justice? Yes I think so,” Stecker said. “Moreover I believe it’s the smart thing to do. … A healthy population makes a stronger country.”

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About Alex Winegar

A junior at Saint Mary's, Alex is a Communicative Sciences and Disorders major. She serves as the Saint Mary's co-associate news editor. Alex enjoys traveling, food and spending time in "The Mitten."

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