Why you should make sure your insurance covers these key gender-related health conditions
The provision of appropriate and adequate healthcare cover is becoming an important factor for employees, and there has been a marked increase in employee interest in this area. The cover these benefits provide and whether it is sufficient, diverse, inclusive and equitable across the total employee population, is now a key consideration. Therefore understanding your employee population is an imperative when choosing the most appropriate cover.
How men and women experience health conditions differently
An additional factor for consideration is gender, as some health conditions can affect men and women in different ways and degrees, resulting in vulnerabilities and risk to illness. This happens because of genetics, physiology, hormonal, social, location and economic factors. Sometimes, the causes and prevalence of health conditions in one gender is quite evident, however doctors cannot answer why certain conditions are more common in one sex than another.
An example of this is the fact that women live longer than men but are more likely to spend fewer years in good health, and are two to three times more likely to experience mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, in comparison to men. Hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy and perimenopause are likely factors for depression in women, however, men have a higher likelihood to die by suicide.
For neurological diseases such as Parkinson disease and autism, women have the protection of estrogen while men are more affected, possibly related to the male X chromosome. Women have higher risk of being diagnosed with migraines, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis. Autoimmune conditions in general are more frequent in women, mainly due to those previously mentioned hormonal factors.
For cardiovascular conditions, cardiomyopathies are more frequent in men than women. In fact, 39% of men over 65 years of age have heart disease compared with only 27% of women over this age. Women benefit from the female hormone estrogen which keeps cholesterol levels under control until menopause when levels decrease, resulting in strokes being more common in aging women than men. Women also tend to delay getting a diagnosis making early intervention and prevention more difficult. This is evident in the incidence of myocardial infarction which has declined in all population groups except young women. This is mainly due to lifestyle and social factors, caring for children, smoking and increasing work-related stress.
On the related issue of smoking, women have more challenges when deciding to quit that habit because they are more sensitive to sensory and social stimuli, and metabolise nicotine much faster than men. However, men are more sensitive to its pharmacological effects related to the addiction. Therefore, nicotine replacement treatments are more effective in men than women.
The prevalence of certain cancers in men and women are well documented, for example breast cancer has the highest incidence in women, followed by colorectum, lung and cancer of the cervix. For men, lung cancer is the most common form followed by prostate, colorectum and stomach. Higher incidences of thyroid cancer are recorded for men, but women are more susceptible to present other benign thyroid conditions.
For both genders, early recognition, detection and diagnosis are essential factors for effective treatment and cure. Many healthcare professionals have been noticing delays in diagnosis and treatment for cancer and several other serious conditions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Appropriate health insurance cover can ensure access to timely diagnosis and treatment, and more than ever employees should be aware of the features, terms and conditions of their insurance plan.
How men and women’s treatment should differ
Despite the amount of data on different gender-related health issues, medical practice does not satisfactorily take gender into account in diagnosis, treatment or disease management, and there are clear gender differences in healthcare regarding:
- use of preventive measures
- prescription of drugs and disease management: many conditions are not diagnosed and treated according to gender. These include heart conditions in women and osteoporosis in men.
Despite of the conditions already mentioned, employers should ensure that their employee benefit packages include:
- specific prevention programmes tailored to employees’ diversity
- lifestyle programmes specifically adapted to gender differences
- targeted campaigns specifically designed for certain groups of people: these campaigns have better results than general ones.
- physiological gender differences and treating the patient ‘as-a-whole’ including social, economic, cultural, and location aspects to optimise treatment strategies.
Access to equitable and inclusive healthcare should be a universal right for all, but unfortunately the reality is not the case. Employers have to ensure this through the selection of the right health benefits that provide the necessary level of cover. Awareness of the multiple different gender-related health conditions and the importance of their inclusion in healthcare plans should be appropriately considered by insurance companies and employers.
The author is Dr Andrea Reis, medical manager at Further Group.
This article is provided by Further Group.
In partnership with Further
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