WASHINGTON -- Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., this week announced a package of 22 bills intended to remedy discrimination against women in health research and services.
The senator and several of her colleagues also met with Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, who presented the legislators with a plan for focusing greater attention on diseases such as breast and cervical cancer, heart disease and osteoporosis.
Flanked by other members of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues, including Rep.
Constance Morella, R-8th, Mikulski outlined the Women's Health Equity Act, a collection of 22 bills focusing on women's health care at a total cost of $442 million.
"Women's needs have been minimized, trivialized or often forgotten altogether," Mikulski said, pointing out that, when women complain about swallowing the bitter pill of discrimination, they often are accused of having "raging hormones."
"But one of the reasons our hormones rage is because we are ignored and trivialized," Mikulski said. "No more sexism and no more indifference."
The bills address what the women legislators say are inequities in research -- which is largely conducted on and by men. It provides more funding for studies of breast and ovarian cancer, contraception, infertility, AIDS, mental health and teen-age pregnancy.
Sullivan presented the legislators with 3-inch-thick binders that, agency by agency, lay out the goals of the department for raising the profile of women's health issues, according to Mikulski spokesman Mike Morrill.
The plan will focus research and prevention activities on women's diseases and will give greater attention to women's smoking, alcohol abuse and drug use, according to a departmental release.
The agenda also calls for the National Institutes of Health to monitor medical studies to ensure that women are adequately represented. It directs the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration to focus on disorders such as depression and anorexia that affect women more than men, the release said.
Mikulski considers the creation of the goals a step in the right direction, but cautioned that she hasn't had a chance to evaluate the action plan to see if it's an adequate antidote, Morrill said.
HHS "did do what the congresswomen wanted, at least in appearance," Morrill said. "Now it comes to the time to dig into it and see if it's a serious effort or a cosmetic one."