Here’s What Healthcare For Women In The Workplace Could Look Like In 2017 – Forbes

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The women’s health landscape is changing rapidly and unpredictably; the impact — on companies and on individuals — will be significant.

The past decade has seen several important advancements in access to women’s healthcare: insurers have been banned from systematically charging women more than men for the same product; access to women’s preventative care like mammograms, cervical cancer screenings and birth control has increased; and pre-clinical research – the studies on mice and rats before you hit clinical trials with humans – is finally including female rodents. (Before 2016, research around drugs and disease had a serious sex bias.)

The incoming Trump-Pence administration has stoked concern that a reversal, particularly in access to reproductive care, could be in the wings. While much of that won’t be felt until 2018, we surveyed dozens of women’s health professionals, from OB/GYNs to midwives, as well as policy experts, to understand which potential changes are highly likely to impact women’s health in 2017; which are less probable; and what it means for women, companies and insurers.

Here are the top seven predictions for the upcoming year:

 The United States may – finally – establish mandatory paid maternity leave.

Let’s start with some good news. President-elect Donald Trump has said that he supports six weeks of paid leave for mothers. It turns out that 82% of America agrees with him—or thinks he should go farther. Should the new administration pass a paid leave policy in 2017, it will be a long overdue step, as the US is the only advanced economy without such a regulation already in place. Multiple studies (like this, this and this) link paid maternity leave and positive mental health benefits for women later in life.

Women’s health corporate benefits will expand as companies weigh cost dynamics.

More good news: Business leaders have already started a shift toward much more robust support of women in the workplace, not out of goodwill but out of consideration for their bottom line. McKinsey recently called advancing women at work a $12 trillion business opportunity. Women’s health costs, particularly around fertility and pregnancy, often represent the largest single cost bucket for self-insured companies  – not even factoring in the costs of low employee retention around pregnancy. From adding fertility benefits like egg freezing or free IVF cycles to maternal health programs for postpartum and back-to-work support, the needle seems likely to shift further toward thoughtful maternity policies in 2017.

The elimination of free birth control will lead to a spike in IUDs and implants.

The advent of The Pill freed women to start a workplace revolution. Another giant step forward occurred when the Affordable Care Act made birth control free (i.e., without co-pays) to 55 million women. Whether the ACA is repealed or amended, many experts anticipate this provision will be one of the first cuts. It is likely that women covered under already-purchased 2017 plans will retain their coverage for this year, but the prospect of costs increasing significantly for 2018 is already leading many health providers to advise women to seek out long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) including implants and IUDs. A spike in usage of those products could be seen in the near-term.

In-network OB/GYNs will fluctuate.

Think it’s hard to find a great doctor in-network? Doctors’ reimbursements are subject to their contracts with insurance companies. Those reimbursements often fail to keep up with inflation or insurance companies refuse to negotiate their rates. For this reason, it is becoming increasingly common for leading practices to simply drop major insurance companies. For patients, this means that their regular OB/GYN may no longer be in-network with their insurance plans.

Increased use of nurse practitioners and midwives in women’s health will help cover access gaps.

Partly in response to the difficulty of finding amazing doctors through traditional insurance, there will be a continuation of the trend toward nurse practitioners and other health professionals stepping in where care from a doctor is hard to obtain. For example, in December, a law was passed HYPERLINK to expand the scope of practice for advanced practice nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives so that they can deliver basic primary and women’s health care to veterans without physician supervision. (News reports over the last few years have highlighted the dire access issues in the veteran community — Including veterans dying while waiting months for care.)

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Companies “by women, for women” gain market share.

Yes, women are also solving healthcare in workplace. To date, most key stakeholders at the helm of insurance companies, hospitals, government – even digital health companies – have been men. The irony is that healthcare is the largest industry in the United States, and women (who care not only for themselves but frequently also for children and family members) make 80% of healthcare decisions, yet only 4% of healthcare CEOs are women. Slowly but surely, this is beginning to change, and 2017 could be a breakthrough year. Beyond my company, Maven, which delivers telemedicine for women and a maternal health program to employers, a slew of other “by women, for women” companies are having an impact. A few examples: Naya Health (redesigned and more modern breast pump), Thinx (period- and pee-proof underwear), Clue (period tracker for women), LOLA (organic tampons, pads, and other feminine care products), Ritual (vitamins for women), Bellabeat (bio- tracker for steps, sleep and, yes, women’s periods), Elvie (pelvic floor tracker), Dot Laboratories (women’s health lab that tests female sex hormone levels) and Celmatix (leveraging big data and genomics for fertility).

More state legislation will challenge Roe v. Wade.

Though abortion may not seem directly related to women in the workplace, like birth control, women’s control over their own bodies and reproduction frees them to make their own choices, including being entrepreneurs. Roe v. Wade was a landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal. Many state legislatures are passing anti-abortion legislation to challenge it, in hopes that a more conservative Supreme Court would vote to overturn the law. A historic Supreme Court case earlier this year ruled an anti-abortion law in Texas as unconstitutional. Ohio’s recent “Heartbeat Bill,” which was vetoed by the governor, would have restricted abortions to before a heartbeat developed, typically before six weeks gestation. Vice President-elect Mike Pence has even supported anti-abortion legislation in Indiana. States to watch this year: Texas, Indiana, Ohio, Louisiana, Arkansas, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Alaska, North Carolina.

 

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