With the biggest legal battle over the President’s health care law settled, its time to end the political wrangling and start educating the American people about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act. Many who oppose the law are unclear about what’s in it. The law provides real, tangible benefits for everyone, but women stand to gain the most from the Affordable Care Act.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women make 80 percent of all personal and family health care decisions. Women use more health care services than men, especially during their reproductive years, and as caregivers, often take the lead in coordinating care for family members. So it comes as no surprise that polls consistently show women overwhelmingly support the Affordable Care Act.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, nearly 47 million women now have access to free preventative health services and nearly 70 percent of the 20 million uninsured women will have health insurance by 2016. Lifetime limits have been eliminated so women won’t lose coverage when facing breast cancer or other life-threatening conditions. And with expanded Medicaid eligibility in some states, subsidies for individuals and families that lack employer-sponsored health insurance as well as new rules that prohibit charging women more than men, more women across all socioeconomic backgrounds will be able to afford health coverage when the law takes full effect in 2014.
Still not convinced? Let’s get specific. The Affordable Care Act:
- Makes gender rating illegal. Insurance companies can no longer use gender rating, the practice of charging women higher premiums for the same insurance benefits provided to men. Gender rating costs women approximately $1billion each year according to the National Women’s Law Center. Only 3 percent of plans that charge women more than men cover maternity services and a national study of gender rating found no clear actuarial justifications for the additional premium costs charged to women. (NWLC Report)
- Prohibits discrimination based on pre-existing conditions. It’s hard to believe that denying children and adults health insurance because of pre-existing conditons was normal, acceptable practice. With the Affordable Care Act, discriminating against individuals based on health status is now a thing of the past. That means millions of women with breast cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other conditions will no longer be refused coverage. The law also requires insurance companies to stop denying coverage to women because they had c-sections or were victims of sexual assault and domestic violence
- Provides guaranteed coverage for birth control, mammograms, pap smears and other preventative screenings. Beginning in 2011, new health plans are required to cover prevention and wellness benefits at no charge. Women can obtain these services without paying deductibles or co-pays. Additionally, plans in the new health insurance exchanges or marketplaces that are being created in the states must provide a basic level of health services including maternity benefits.
- Improves access to health care and family planning services for low-income women. With the expansion of eligibility for Medicaid, individuals with incomes below 138 percent of the poverty line (currently $15,856 for individuals and $32,499 for a family of four) will now qualify for the program. Additionally, states can extend family planning services to individuals who would otherwise not qualify for Medicaid benefits. There’s one caveat here, and its a big one. Because of the Court’s ruling to allow states to voluntary participate in the Medicaid expansion, fewer people will gain health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. An estimated 10 million low-income women would have gained coverage with an expanded Medicaid program in all 50 states, according to the National Women’s Law Center. With many Republican governors pledging not to accept funds from the federal government to expand the program, it will be up to residents in each state to demand that their governors and legislators extend Medicaid to more individuals and families. Subsidies will be provided on a sliding scale based on income for those who can’t afford to purchase health insurance without financial assistance but do not qualify for Medicaid.
- Enables young adults to stay on their family’s health insurance plan until age 26. This is one of the most popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act. In just two years after passage of the law, 2.5 million more young adults, including an estimated 1.1 million young women, are insured because of the Affordable Care Act. So during these difficult economic times when young people are finding it harder to get a job or extending their studies to further their prospects for employment, families can have added security knowing that their loved ones have access to care and protection from the financial burden of medical costs in the event major illness should strike.
The Affordable Care Act contains many other provisions that benefit women across their lifespan, including better prescription drug coverage for seniors receiving Medicare and requirements that large employers provide a clean, private space other than a bathroom to nursing mothers who need to express breast milk during work hours.
It’s hard to comprehend how anyone could be opposed to improving and expanding health care and lowering costs, especially when so many of our fellow citizens don’t have regular access to the care they need to stay healthy. While politicians threaten to take away the many gains provided by the law, polls suggest the nation is weary and ready to move on from the contentious battles. Women favor the law including the mandate to purchase insurance. We get it. We get what’s at stake and we’re ready to start taking advantage of the benefits for ourselves and our families. The Affordable Care Act is not a cure-all for the many ills that plague our health care system, but it’s a step in the right direction that affirms our beliefs that no one should go without health care or face the threat of financial ruin because of it.