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Study: Women report more illness than men Posted: December 12th, 2011

By Barbara Sehr

Barbara Sehr is a freelance writer based in Seattle.

Do women simply report more health issues than men? Or do complex genetic and hormonal structures put women and those who insure them at greater risk?

For the period from 2007 to 2009, women reported an average of four days per month when their physical health was not good and 3.9 days per month when their mental health was not good, according to a report by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a service of the Department of Health and Human Services.

That compared to an average of 3.2 physically unhealthy and 2.9 mentally unhealthy days per month reported among men.

Historically, research on health matters has been gender neutral, or focused on men's health. Actuaries for insurance companies say women pay higher costs for health insurance coverage because women traditionally use their health coverage more often than men. That's true even when maternity care is not factored in.

National health agencies such as the Institute of Medicine are trying to discover how genetic gender differences affect the body. The institute's 2010 report "Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health: Does Sex Matter?" states that each cell contains sex differences that may explain some major differences between men and women – such as the fact that women on average live longer. These differences also may contribute to some unanswered questions, such as why women's bodies react differently to pharmaceuticals than men's bodies.

"One of the most compelling reasons for looking at what is known about the biology of sex difference is that there are striking differences in human disease that are not known at this time," the report says.

The HRSA report notes that men between 18 and 24 are the least likely to acquire health insurance, while women of any age are more likely than men to be insured. However, the National Women's Law Center points out that "women experience greater difficulties than men in obtaining health care, are more likely to forgo preventative care due to cost, are more likely to be underinsured, and are more likely to report problems paying medical bills."

The center notes that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was designed to put affordable health insurance within reach of all American women.