May is Women’s Health Month, an important opportunity to focus on women’s lives and well-being. This year, it happens to coincide with a piece of legislation Congress is debating that will have a significant impact on women’s health and deserves our attention.
The legislation, the Cures 2.0 Act, is the second iteration of a law passed in 2016 and one that could greatly improve women’s health if it is passed. Congress must do so as soon as possible.
Cures 2.0, which was introduced by Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), contains several provisions that need reauthorization before the end of 2022. Some of these measures would advance medical research, improve access for patients to new medicines and treatments, provide enhanced federal support and education for caregivers and remove many of the barriers that still exist to telehealth services.
As the senior policy advisor for HealthyWomen, an online health education organization for women, I know that women need a few basics to live long and healthy lives — regardless of where they live, their income or their educational levels. Those include reliable access to high-quality medical care — even sometimes from the comfort of their own homes — clinical trials that are inclusive and diverse to better account for women’s biological differences when developing therapeutics or devices, insurance coverage for medical tests to guide treatment and because most caregivers for children and adults in this country are women, real support and education for individuals in that role.
Let’s take a minute to consider each of these measures on its own. I’ll begin with the most fundamental issue of reliable access to high-quality medical care. This is where the expansion of telehealth care comes in as such a key benefit.
While telehealth services were available prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, during the crisis, they became a lifeline for many Americans. For women, who often bear the multiple burdens of caregiving responsibilities in their families as well as working and perhaps managing their own health concerns, it can be difficult logistically — and often cost-prohibitive — to take time off work or find alternative care arrangements just to make a doctor’s appointment. A permanent expansion of telehealth services would be a critical component of improving overall access to care by making it easier for many women to see their providers without having to do the impossible juggle in-person visits frequently require.
Next, let’s understand the importance of medical research to women’s health. Historically, scientists defaulted to using a 150-pound male as their subject in clinical trials. This sex bias led to decades of misunderstanding about the medical needs specific to women and care that was often mismatched to females. Biomedical research needs to be more inclusive in order to diversify clinical trials, and equally important, should analyze the trial data and stratify by sex, gender and race so that such data can be more valuable in designing better medicines and therapies for all patients in hopes of giving personalized care.
A related provision is insurance coverage for innovative technologies that are digital alternatives to treatment and therapies, including wearables and digital applications and platforms that are approved by the FDA. These new tools and many others in the scientific research pipeline, including biomarker testing, are new advancements that could be life-changing. These tools are important to medical decision-making, allowing for more targeted therapies and treatments. This is critical since cancer is the second-leading cause of death for American women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And what of support for caregivers? Women, especially mothers, felt the impacts and stressors of the COVID pandemic intensely. According to a recent CNBC article, 70 percent of all job losses in the last two years were those held by women and there are still nearly 1 million fewer women working or looking for work today than in February 2020. Given that women’s labor force participation contributes $7.6 trillion to the country’s GDP every year, the economic consequences for everyone are significant when caregivers do not have the support they need.
Cures 2.0 would provide critical education and training programs as well as improved federally supported infrastructure for family caregivers to not only make their lives and jobs easier but to better protect our nation from the next global crisis, too.
Cures 2.0 goes a long way to ensure these essential services are available to all American women. And after two-plus years of the COVID-19 pandemic when women around the world bore the professional and personal brunt of the impacts of that crisis, the need to support women’s health initiatives has never been greater.
It is imperative that Congress pass Cures 2.0 now. Provide women with the resources, tools and treatment advancements to improve their own health and that of their families, too. There is no reason to wait.
Martha Nolan is senior policy advisor at HealthyWomen, a nonprofit that educates women to make decisions about their health care.