This week, the Biden-Harris administration announced the first-ever White House initiative on women’s health research. Dr. Carolyn Mazure, a leader in the field of women’s health research, will chair the initiative and coordinate it on behalf of the Office of the First Lady and the Gender Policy Council. President Biden has directed multiple agencies to deliver within 45 days concrete recommendations and actions the administration can take to advance women’s health research. The initiative will look to increase research and funding to improve the ability to effectively prevent, diagnose, and treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, menopause, cardiovascular disease, and endometriosis. It bolsters the Biden-Harris administration’s stance and investment in women’s health. In May, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced over $65 million aimed at addressing the maternal health crisis and providing new approaches to care.
The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations, and it’s been steadily increasing since the late ’80s. Maternal deaths rose 40% in 2021 from the prior year. Yes — an increase in death rates. That’s the wrong direction. Furthermore, in 2021, the maternal mortality rate for Black women was 2.6 times higher than for White women. Despite so many advances in medicine, digital technology, and research, more women are dying. Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 80% of pregnancy-related deaths are preventable. Our health system needs to take drastic measures to close inequities for women.
Research Gaps Are Wide And Lead To Inequities In Treatment
The United States ranks 23rd on Hologic’s Global Women’s Health Index Ranking. The first controlled clinical trial of the modern era took place in 1747. In 1990, nearly 250 years later, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) established an Office of Research on Women’s Health because NIH-supported research failed to consistently include women. While research has increased, significant gaps remain, to the detriment of 51.1% of the US population. For example, women make up two-thirds of the cases of Alzheimer’s, but only 12% of NIH funding for Alzheimer’s and related dementias goes toward research focused on women. Researchers lack enough data to understand why women who never smoked are twice as likely to develop lung cancer than men who never smoked. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. But traditional testing used to diagnose a heart attack was developed based on men, which has notably led to high rates of misdiagnosis of heart attacks in women.
Amid A Digital Health Downturn, Women’s Health Continues To Shine
The White House’s announcement is further validation for a digital health market that has been highly attuned to the opportunity in women’s health. At a time when digital health funding is on the decline, the areas with the greatest investment provide a telling story. Total funding related to women’s health declined just 10% from its peak in 2021, even as funding for the digital health sector overall dropped nearly 50%.
Some notable private equity rounds for women’s health this year include Diana Health’s $11 million, Midi’s $25M, and Herself Health’s $26M. These companies are supporting the unmet needs of women’s health, from fertility to maternal health, menopause, and integrated primary care targeted at the physical and mental well-being of women.
Women’s Health Is Good For Business
If saving lives doesn’t do it for you, and ignoring the majority of the US population does, then look to the labor force participation rate for women aged 25–54: It holds steady at 75.2–77.6%. Many employers and health insurers are acutely aware of the higher medical spend for younger women due to childbirth. It’s not as widely known that, from ages 44 to 64, spending for women is 24% higher than for men, and even at ages 65 and up, spending for women is 8% higher. Across these age groups, women’s health issues primarily include chronic conditions and menopausal symptoms. With the onset of menopause, the risks of cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and osteoporosis increase significantly. The quality of care received by postmenopausal women varies widely, however, and in some populations, breast cancer screening rates are nearly 20% below the national target set by the National Committee for Quality Assurance.
Health insurers and employers alike stand to gain from further investment in research and advances in treatment that help lower medical spend for this population and break down barriers and reduce health inequities that force women to leave the workforce. But you don’t have to wait. Employers and health insurers can invest now in digital health offerings and tailored benefits that better serve this population. Keep these valuable women in the workforce. You’re not only doing what’s good for business — you just might save the life of someone you care for or who cares for you.
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