Women’s health issues was the focus of League of Women Voters

Panelists at the League of Women Voter's annual meeting included, from left, Mary Leddy, Joyce Rickson, and Catherine Coogan. — Photo by Janet Hefler

The annual meeting of the League of Women’s Voters (LWV) of Martha’s Vineyard on May 20 featured a program about women’s health issues and the reality of needs on Martha’s Vineyard.

About 20 women, including a mix of seasonal and year-round residents, attended the meeting at the Howes House in West Tisbury. The program, which featured a panel of three Island healthcare professionals, started at 1:30 pm after a membership business meeting and luncheon.

Mary Leddy, a healthcare access specialist with the Vineyard Health Care Access Program, opened the discussion. When asked by program moderator Lorna Andrade what she considers the biggest obstacle in healthcare in regard to the national government, Ms. Leddy answered, “the lack of health insurance.”

“If you don’t have health insurance, you’re not going to go to the doctor,” Ms. Leddy said.

For those who are self-employed, work seasonal positions, or work for a small business, health insurance often isn’t a perk of their positions, but a hefty out-of-pocket expense.

And for women without health insurance, Ms. Leddy added, “there is no preventative care.” According to a study by the Center for Disease and Control and Prevention, women in their childbearing years spend 68 percent more on healthcare than men.

As a health access specialist, Ms. Leddy connects Vineyard residents with state resources for medical care. The Commonwealth Care Health Insurance Program provides subsidized health coverage for individuals and families with limited income in Massachusetts, a program which 158,000 Commonwealth residents currently use.

The problem is, Ms. Leddy said, “for those who are just above the cut-off there isn’t assistance from the state available.”

For an individual to qualify, the income limit is $33,516, and for a family of four, $69,156.

In regard to the national healthcare debate, Ms. Leddy said, “You’re battling the private companies that care about money, but it shouldn’t be based on the bottom line: it’s our healthcare.”

Catherine Coogan, the director of Family Planning of Martha’s Vineyard, continued the conversation but switched the topic to sexual health.

Ms. Coogan said she has seen a new trend at the Center. “Females are becoming more vocal and saying ‘if you are going to be my partner you must do this,'” she said, in regard to wearing condoms and getting tested for sexually transmitted infections prior to sex.

Joyce Rickson, the former director of AIDS Alliance on Martha’s Vineyard, also spoke about sexual health.

“HIV is not just a man’s problem,” Ms. Rickson said. “In 1985, women and girls accounted for just seven percent of cases; 30 years later, women account for 35 percent.”

Ms. Rickson also reminded the mature crowd about the impact of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) on senior citizens. In 2005, she said people age 50 and older accounted for 15 percent of new human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and AIDS diagnoses, according to the CDC, and 29 percent of all people living with AIDS.

Although Ms. Rickson said she considers condoms to “still be the most effective way to prevent HIV,” she added that, “older adults think of condoms are for contraception only.”

While working as the AIDS Alliance director, Ms. Rickson said she often visited senior citizen centers to discuss sexually transmitted infections and prevention. When passing out a bag of condoms, Ms. Rickson said, “everyone would pass the bag along without reaching inside to grab even one.”

Ms. Andrade, former president of the Martha’s Vineyard LWV, said the national organization was formed in 1920 to “teach women how to exercise their newfound right to vote.”

At the end of the meeting, Ms. Rickson, who is also an LWV member, wrapped up the event by reminding everyone, “It’s a man’s world if we don’t vote.”