In the UK, gynaecology waiting lists faced the biggest increase in delays of all medical specialities post pandemic: growing by 60%. Women with conditions like endometriosis, prolapse and heavy bleeding waited more than a year to receive NHS care in England – because the surgeries were classified as elective procedures for benign conditions.
Endometriosis pain is often described as sharp and stabbing, with some women saying it feels “like their insides are being pulled down”. Many have reported being prescribed antidepressants to treat their pain instead of painkillers.
This lack of integration/coverage of female-specific health conditions is not limited to endometriosis. In Italy, the cost of treatment for vulvodynia is not covered by the medical system. Yet by some estimates it impacts 16% of women and symptoms include burning and rawness in the genital area, which can last for years. In addition to the high personal costs to women who have vulvodynia, the disorder imposes a financial burden on the economy. In the US, the annual per-patient cost of vulvodynia is more than $17,700 in direct and indirect medical expenses and non-healthcare expenses.
Too often women’s health is viewed as a ‘wellness’ benefit. Numerous studies have shown that women routinely pay more for healthcare, largely due to female “wellness visits”, like gynecology appointments, and the fact that women are the ones who give birth. According to research from the Kaiser Family Foundation, women aged 19-34 spent an average of $3,402 on healthcare costs in 2015, compared to the $1,891 spent by men. Which amounts to women spending $1,511 more on healthcare in just one year.
For now, the mantel seems to have fallen to companies seem to cover reproductive healthcare services (although, as outlined in the Atlantic “The benevolence of companies is a terribly shaky safety net. Not only because if you lose your job, you lose those benefits. When people depend on their employer for an essential benefit, they might feel compelled to endure poor working conditions in order to keep it.”)
It makes sense from a retention perspective. 25% of women considering giving up work because of menopause symptoms. 750,000 working women have experienced negative effects at work from menopause, a loss estimated to have cost the economy US$3.2 billion. A fact, that most likely explains in part, the fact that menopause benefits are gaining traction as a workplace benefit.
Fertility was the first to pave the way in that regard. Between 2019 and 2020, WINFertility, a US-based fertility benefits platform that partners with employers to provide family-planning perks saw a 500% increase in employers adding family-building benefits. Generally there seems to be a higher awareness of the financial and emotional toll these challenges take (and their subsequent impact on work). In a survey conducted by Parla with 400 women across the UK, More than 80% of women said miscarriages and their struggles with fertility, impacted their mental health and productivity at work, which in turn led to higher absences, poor performance and more women wanting to leave the workforce. Curious about what the future of fertility and women’s health in the workplace might look like? Check out an extract of our FemTechnology Summit panel on the ‘Future of Fertility’ with FemTech Startups Hertility, Parla, Kindbody and moderator Stasa Stankovic, a PhD Researcher at the University of Cambridge.