New research from the University of Minnesota suggests more reproductive-age women lack access to health insurance.
The study, published Friday online in the journal Women's Health Issues, looked at national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey data from 2000 to 2009. It found that a quarter of more than 200,000 women ages 18 to 49 had gaps in their health insurance coverage in the past year, and the percentage of women with gaps in coverage increased over the decade.
Katy Backes Kozhimannil, a professor in the School of Public Health and the study's lead researcher, said the research team decided to look at all women who were pregnant or might become pregnant.
"We started out really wanting to look at pregnant women and their access to health insurance over time. But interestingly in the U.S., where half of all pregnancies are unintended, it's really important to be looking at the whole population of reproductive-age women as they have access to health insurance, which facilitates access to care," she said.
Kozhimannil said she was surprised to find that 10 percent of pregnant women reported being uninsured.
"Given that our system is really set up to protect that group of women and allow them access to health insurance, we were surprised to find a percentage that high," she said. "That may be people who were not aware of coverage that may be accessible to them."
That finding, along with information about gaps in coverage, raises concerns about women's access to contraception, prenatal care and even birth outcomes for their children, she said.
The surveys were all conducted before the health care reform law was enacted in 2010, and Kozhimannil said she expects the law will reduce the number of women with gaps in their health insurance coverage. But she cautioned that just because a woman has access to health insurance doesn't mean she's getting the care she needs.
"There may be additional barriers to care that we need to think about," Kozhimannil said.