In roughly one week, Tennessee politicians will have an opportunity to vote for a plan that could drastically improve the health of women in the state.
On February 2, the Tennessee legislature will discuss Insure Tennessee, Governor Haslam’s plan that would enable about 200,000 Tennesseans to afford health insurance. According to a report from the Center for Business and Economic Research at UT, Knoxville, a little less than half of the people who would qualify are women.
Having worked as a nurse for about three decades, I have seen how the lack of access to care can harm women and their families. Insure Tennessee would help our state’s women in many ways.
First of all, women who sign up for Insure Tennessee will have access to
life-saving preventive care. When detected early, the five-year survival rate for cervical cancer is 91%, according to the American Cancer Society. For breast cancer, the five-year survival rate for women who detect it early is 99%. When detected after the cancer has spread, that survival rate drops to 24%.
Despite the clear benefits of early detection, many women do not screen for these cancers because they don’t have insurance.
Lack of insurance also keeps women from getting good prenatal care, which has the potential to save the lives of babies. Nearly one out of every four women in Tennessee did not receive prenatal care, according to a Tennessee Department of Health report from 2004.
Insuring more women would help solve this problem. Even though all pregnant women in Tennessee qualify for TennCare, they may not know they are pregnant for several months, and these early months are crucial for the healthy development of a child. Then, even if pregnant women do enroll in TennCare, they can lose their eligibility shortly after giving birth. That is not ideal – families are far better off when the mother has sustainable access to care.
Insure Tennessee would help more women in the state access care within a system that could provide preventive screenings and prenatal services. In short, the Governor’s program would enable more women to live healthy lives.
Better health for women in this state would be good for children, good for families and good for all Tennesseans.
Nancy Anness is the Vice President of Advocacy, Access and Community Outreach at Saint Thomas Health, a five hospital system in Middle Tennessee. A practicing Family Nurse Practitioner, she joined Saint Thomas 20 years ago. Nancy received her undergraduate nursing degree from Western Kentucky University and a Master’s in Nursing specializing in Family Practice from Vanderbilt University. Nancy has managed and practiced in rural and urban community health centers most of her career. Prior to joining Saint Thomas Health, Nancy was an Associate Professor for the Practice of Nursing at Vanderbilt School of Nursing and started the Vine Hill Community Clinic.