WASHINGTON – A report issued by a women's research group that ranks New York state last in women's health is misleading and does not reflect the progress made by Gov. George Pataki's administration, according to the state's health department.
According to a report issued by the Washington-based Institute for Women's Policy Research, New York's high rate of heart disease, cancer and sexually transmitted diseases make it the worst state for women's health.
New York's heart disease mortality rate was the highest in the country and more than twice that of the top-ranking state, according to the report. It ranked in the bottom third for breast cancer mortality and diabetes. The state's high incidence of chlamydia was nearly double the national rate. For AIDS, New York ranks second to last – more than three times the national rate.
The report used government data up to seven years old – “the most up-to-date data available,” according to Amy Caiazza who edited the report. But health department spokesman John Signor, who said he doesn't deny the accuracy of the numbers, said the study does not reflect new policies introduced by the governor.
“The report is outdated and kind of useless to us,” said Signor.
Under Pataki's leadership, New York has responded to the high level of breast cancer by creating a breast cancer mapping project to track the disease. In 1997, the state enacted a law giving mastectomy patients and their doctors the right to decide the length of the hospital stay following surgery. Over the last few years, the state has also put more money into breast cancer screenings, bringing state and federal funding to an all time high of $11.2 million, according to the state's health department.
“If you look at what's going on in New York state in terms of women's health care, Gov. Pataki deserves an “A,” Signor said. “He's a leader for women's health issues. We've reversed the trend of the previous administration.”
Caiazza acknowledged the numbers may have changed over the years but said “there's no reason” why New York's ranking would have changed significantly.
The report, released Wednesday, was part of a larger one on the status of women throughout the country. The group ranked the states on four categories other than health. New York scored a “D” for political participation; “B-” for earnings; “B-” for economic autonomy and a “B” for reproductive rights.
In women's political participation, New York ranked in the bottom-third. Although the number of women in Congress has more than doubled since 1990, the number of women running for office in New York remains low. In fact, since 1996 the percentage of women representing New York in state and national offices fell, according to the report. In New York, only 39 of the 211 legislators are women.
“It is very difficult to run in here unless you have the full backing of the two major parties,” said Barbara Bartoletti, a lobbyist for New York's League of Women Voters.
In New York, expensive campaigns and the fact that not many women have moved up the ranks in either party to attract party funds has prevented qualified woman from penetrating what Bartoletti calls a “political cocoon.”
New York's first woman senator, Hillary Clinton, had strong backing from the Democratic Party and national recognition, unlike other women candidates in New York.
On the other side of the polls, women turn out to the polls slightly less often than those in other states. Sixty-three percent of women in New York are registered to vote, and 55 percent turned out on Election Day, about five percentage points below the national average.
“When people are living in poverty, they don't feel very effective as voters,” said Caiazza who linked women's political participation with New York's comparatively high poverty rate. According to the report 16 percent of women in the state live below the poverty line.
Although New York didn't score badly regarding women's economic position, Caiazza did notice a large gap between the state's haves and have-nots. For example, the state ranks near the bottom for women living in poverty, but women's medium income at $28,126 is nearly $3,000 more than the national average.
The state's strict law on punishing those who block access to clinics or harass patients with a misdemeanor and its funding for medically necessary abortion put New York in the report's top 10 for reproductive rights.