Health Concerns Of Black Women And Girls

Health is a basic building block for inclusive and fair social, economic, and political institutions. Yet, health inequities remain an enduringly pernicious problem in the United States. Systems of racial and economic stratification shape whether you live in a neighborhood that will promote your health, have access to resources to sustain your health, experience daily life in ways that will undermine your health, acquire sickness that may erode your health, or gain power over the political processes that can be leveraged to protect your health. Women of color inhabit disadvantaged positions within households, occupations, and healthcare institutions - putting them at disproportionate risk of ill health. 

Intersecting race and gender health inequities is rooted in historic and contemporary policies that have systematically harmed, targeted, undervalued, and abused Black women. The COVID-19 pandemic is a recent and especially striking example of this. Because Black women are disproportionately represented among essential workers, the exclusion of certain jobs from the emergency provisions embedded in the COVID-19 relief packages (e.g., home care workers) meant that Black women had constrained access to job protections (e.g., paid family leave) and fewer options for staying home if doing so was best for their health or that of their families. Beyond mortality, Black women have faced substantial and unequal financial hardship (a driver of health inequity) as a result of the pandemic. The harsh realities that became salient during COVID-19 reflect long-standing race-gender disparities in health status. Black women have a lower life expectancy and suffer higher rates of hypertension, and maternal, infant, and pregnancy-related mortality. To improve the health of Black women, we must address the challenges reflected in health outcomes, processes, and policies.

We must establish universal health care and implement mental health parity at a level at least equivalent to what is needed for physical health services. These features are critical to building a system where cost is not a barrier to care. 

Acting decisively to address the root causes of trauma can give us a nation that more fully and efficiently heals the trauma that Black women have routinely faced. We have an opportunity to advance a vision where Black women no longer have to “deal with” the status quo and can experience holistic support for wellness. In 2015, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman introduced the Healthy MOM Act to expand health insurance coverage for pregnant individuals. This legislation requires health insurers, health insurance exchanges, and group health plans to offer a special enrollment period to pregnant individuals. The bill also makes pregnancy a qualifying life event for the purpose of enrolling in a federal employee health benefit plan. Additionally, a group health plan or health insurer that covers dependents must provide coverage for maternity care to all covered individuals. In 2018, Congresswoman Kelly first introduced the MOMMA’s Act, which comprehensively addresses the maternal mortality and morbidity crisis. This bill would require CDC to work with states to improve their maternal data collection and surveillance; support grants for hospitals to develop emergency protocols and best practices, extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum women from 60 days to one-year, and require that HHS establish a regional centers of excellence to address implicit bias among providers.