In Their Own Voices: Low-income Women and Their Health Providers in Three Communities Talk about Access to Care, Reproductive Health, and Immigration

This report draws from focus groups of low-income, reproductive age women and their providers that were conducted in San Francisco, Tucson, and Atlanta, between October and December 2018. Key findings include:

Contraceptive Services

Most women who participated in the focus groups in San Francisco, Tucson, and Atlanta said they were able to get the contraception they seek. Some expressed reservations about using hormonal contraception as well as the quality of health care interactions – particularly not receiving enough information about potential side effects as well as limited communication with providers due to language barriers. Among reproductive health care safety-net providers, finances, attracting and maintaining a strong workforce, and stressful duties are underlying challenges.

Costs and Coverage

Out-of-pocket costs were a major barrier to care for low-income women, particularly those for who are uninsured and particularly for specialty services. Medicaid was identified as an important source of coverage among these low-income women, particularly for contraception and maternity care. However, some women encountered administrative barriers with the program related to enrollment and maintaining postpartum eligibility.

Abortion Care

The differences in abortion access across the three cities came across in the responses of the women. Women in San Francisco (where access is better) seemed to know more about where to obtain abortion services, compared to women in Tucson and Atlanta, who were also less likely to support abortion rights.

Mental Health and Intimate Partner Violence

Unmet need for mental health services was discussed as one of the greatest challenges across all focus groups. Providers in all three cities say that when it comes to mental health services and domestic violence, delivering high quality care and finding referrals for treatment is very challenging due to inadequate training, resources and stigma.

Social Determinants of Health

Household finances in general and the cost of housing in particular came up as major sources of stress in low-income women’s lives, affecting their ability to obtain health care in all three cities. Women also noted that they face logistical obstacles, such as time, transportation, child care, to getting routine health care.

Immigration Policies

Many immigrant women report they and family members are choosing not to sign up for public programs, particularly food stamps, WIC, and Medicaid out of fear that it will negatively affect their immigration status and citizenship applications. Several providers said they have seen a drop in the number of immigrant women who seek health care for themselves and their children since President Trump’s election.


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