Power at the top of health care in America

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We have lost over 223,000 American lives due to COVID-19.  The pandemic response has been an atrocious mish-mash of information, disjointed policy directives, and abysmal national leadership. There are only two women out of the 27 members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force: Dr. Deborah Birx and Seema Verma.  Where are all the women?  They are being left out of the conversation and decision-making.  They do not have a seat at the table, despite their expertise.

In 1977 the Federal Drug Administration banned fertile women from virtually all drug trials – this wasn’t reversed until 1993.  Take that in.  This means that women from approximately ages 12 to 50 were not involved in drug testing.  How can you make effective drugs for women ages 12-to 50 if they are not involved in the testing?  You can’t. It took until 1993 for Congress to mandate women’s inclusion in the National Institute of Health-sponsored drug trials.  Not surprisingly, since women’s inclusion in drug trials, great strides have been made in diseases that impact women, such as breast and cervical cancer and cardiovascular disease. However, the disparity in drug trials still exists and is costing women their lives.  It has only been within the last decade that doctors finally figured out that women have different symptoms when experiencing a heart attack than men.  The misunderstanding of these differences can cost a woman her life, particularly when being treated by a male doctor.  Another example of the importance of testing drugs on women includes prescription drugs used to help people sleep.  Ambien began being used and widely prescribed in the United States in 2005. Women were waking up significantly more groggy – dangerously so.   The FDA finally took the time in 2013 to figure out that the active ingredient in Ambien took longer for women to process than men. Maybe if there had been more than two women as the Commissioner of Food and Drugs in over 110 years, things would be different.

Many people in America can agree that our health care is excellent, but our health care system is a disaster. It seems the only people happy about our current health care system are those at the top. For the rest of us, it is expensive and complicated. Having a son with a severe heart condition means that every career move I make depends on affordable and adequate health care coverage because every year, we pay thousands of dollars in premiums, prescription drugs, co-pays, and deductibles.

Besides the politicians, who are making decisions affecting our health and our wallets? Take a guess.  All of the top private health insurance companies have men at the head of the table, with the notable exception of Gail Koziara Boudreaux at Anthem, Inc.  Men run the largest health care systems and the largest pharmaceutical companies in the United States.

Why should you care? Do you want to be in charge of your body?  Do you believe health care for all is a human right?   Do you feel your health care coverage should be based on your employment? Do you believe your income should not dictate your health care access?  If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you should care.

A 2018 study found the gender of hospital CEOs has a positive impact on patient experience. Following-up on that research, a 2019 study found evidence women CEOs “improve the interpersonal care experience faster than male CEOs, particularly in the most complex executive job environments that is in the most populous urban environments, and in the largest hospital facilities.”

The authors conclude that women have “a propensity for transforming health care organizations in the direction of patient-centeredness.”  It sounds like the type of hospital I want my loved ones to be in.  Perhaps it is time for hospital boards to be more intentional about the hiring and promotion of women to the C-suite.  It will improve your patient care, which will include your bottom line. The female body is very different than the male body. I would like some women at the head of the table, helping me navigate my health needs who get it.  There are brilliant women in the health care industry.  They are smart, passionate, and innovative – hire them to lead.

Wendy Hind is a health care consultant.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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