January 07, 2001

That's the evaluation six leading women's and ethnic health organizations will give to state policy makers and business leaders in Sacramento when they release their report, "Nearly A Failing Grade: A Report Card on the Health Status of Women and Girls in California."

"Women have repeatedly come to Sacramento to teach the governor, legislators, and business leaders about the health care needs of women and girls in California," said Patricia Chang, president and CEO of The Women's Foundation, the San Francisco-based organization that spearheaded the report. "But as this report card illustrates, our elected officials and business leaders are not earning the grades we know they have the potential to achieve -- especially in this time of unprecedented prosperity."

The report card, which will be released by The Women's Foundation in conjunction with the Los Angeles Women's Foundation, Women's Health Leadership, California Black Women's Health Project, Latino Issues Forum, and Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum, assesses the state's progress in meeting the health needs of women and girls in four key areas: Basic Health Status, Access to Coverage and Care, Women's Health and the Environment, and California's Policy Framework for Women's Health.

"This report card highlights the importance of simplifying our health insurance programs and increasing access to health care for all Californians," said Senator Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento). "To address our important health needs I am working to expand the Healthy Families program and increase access to our Medi-Cal program. Every parent and child should have access to quality health care."

California lags far behind other states in creating a healthy environment and providing health care for women and girls in many areas. As the report illustrates:

-- California has the highest number of uninsured people in the nation.

-- California is the seventh largest hazardous waste-generating state in the U.S.

-- Women who become pregnant while working in semiconductor plants are 40 to 100 percent more likely to suffer a miscarriage than women who do not work in these plants.

-- California ranks 33rd in providing Pap smear tests, which screen for cervical cancer.

-- California's level of hunger is higher than the national average. Five of every 10 women of childbearing age are at risk for hunger.

"The patchwork nature of the current health care programs we have is confusing, complex and leads to underutilization by the women and girls whose health they are supposed to benefit," said Senator John Burton (D-San Francisco). "To remedy this problem, we must continue to streamline accessibility, expand coverage to Healthy Families, and seek to expand coverage to kids and parents wherever we can."

Without universal coverage, the report explains, gaps in health care access and coverage are unavoidable -- and they affect low-income communities of color especially hard. "The health statistics on African American women in our state are alarming -- double the rate of HIV infection, death rates from cervical cancer higher than the national average, double the rate of heart disease -- but they shouldn't be surprising," said Latonya Slack, executive director of the California Black Women's Health Project. "There is a serious problem with our health care delivery system."

The report also emphasizes the need for legislators to address and remedy the health hazards women face from environmental and occupational toxins at home, at work, and in the natural environment. "In Los Angeles, people of color are three times more likely than whites to live within a half mile of a hazardous waste treatment center or dumping site," said Deborah F. Ching, president of the Los Angeles Women's Foundation. "The fact that this has been allowed to occur, and that when these people get sick they probably won't be able to access the health care they need, is a disgrace."

In addition to moving toward universal coverage, the report's recommendations include expansion of the Healthy Families Program, streamlining and expanding health insurance programs, and expanding coverage to reach the state's poor unemployed and working adults.

"Women's health advocates have spent untold hours in the capitol and in their communities working to improve the health care available to women and girls in California," said Diane Littlefield, executive director of Women's Health Leadership, a center of the Public Health Institute. "We hope this report encourages women and girls to organize, speak out, and push for change."

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