It’s a new day for women’s health care.
This month marked the rollout of provisions from the Affordable Care Act that will impact millions of women across the country.
“Health insurance companies have traditionally, and for decades, refused to cover the services that women need. Now women will get important preventative health services without paying anything more out of pocket. The insurance that we buy will actually cover meaningful women’s health care,” Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz said during a press call held to highlight President Barack Obama’s commitment to strengthening women’s health care.
“The bottom line is the Affordable Care Act is making a difference for women. It is life-saving coverage for women.”
As of August 1, health plans must cover eight new prevention-related services with no co-pay or deductibles — including well-women visits; gestation diabetes screening, domestic and interpersonal violence screening and counseling; FDA-approved contraceptives and contraceptive education; breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling; HPV testing; sexually transmitted infections counseling, and HIV screening and counseling.
Previously, some insurance companies did not cover these preventative services for women at all under their health plans, and some women had to pay deductibles or co-pays for the care they needed.
Group health plans and issuers that have maintained grandfathered status are not required to cover these services, as well as certain nonprofit religious organizations, such as churches and schools.
A report released by President Barack Obama’s administration indicates that an estimated 2.1 million women in Pennsylvania will gain health services due to the new provisions in the coming months. The report indicates that 19 percent of Pennsylvania women haven’t had a Pap smear — used to detect cervical cancer — in the last three years, a rate the Affordable Care Act seeks to lower.
Philadelphia resident Juanita Leysath is already seeing the benefits of health care reform.
“Health care reform has helped my family in a number of ways,” says Leysath.
When her sister died in 2004, Leysath became the guardian of her 26-year-old niece Jacqueline. Leysath’s niece, who is currently covered under her insurance plan, recently had foot surgery. Her niece is currently in graduate school and only receives a limited stipend.
“Had she not been under my medical insurance, the expenses would have been prohibitive and I’m not sure how we would have covered them. It’s been a relief to know that while she pursues her advanced degrees, she will have medical coverage,” says Leysath.
Under the ACA, children can be covered by their parents’ health plans until they turn 26.
“Without my employer’s coverage, paying for Jacqueline’s health care would have been a tremendous burden. Under President Obama, we’ve just had tremendous progress for women’s health and I can’t understand why Mitt Romney would want to turn us back,” said Leysath.
“I know that President Obama’s strong commitment to women’s health will help to protect me, as well as my niece and her generation of women going forward. So it is important in November that women across Pennsylvania stand up and protect the progress that we have made with President Obama’s leadership.”
As a registered cardiovascular nurse from Lancaster, Lori Cataldi says the preventive care is key. She’s seen people skip tests and services that they need because they couldn’t afford the preventative treatments.
“I stand with the president because there is so much at stake in November. I can’t sit on the sidelines. I speak passionately about health care reform — not only about how it has helped my family but how it has helped thousands from having to make difficult financial decisions and how it will benefit my patients by making preventative care affordable,” says Cataldi.
Former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies said the ACA restores health care as a basic cornerstone of middle-class security in America.
“Before health care reform, too many women skipped tests, didn’t get proper medicine or missed other preventative treatment because of costs. Before health care reform, insurance companies could charge women 50 percent more than men for the same coverage. And before health care reform, kids with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage,” said Margolies.
Women Medicare beneficiaries have already been receiving preventive services such as annual wellness visits, mammograms and bone mass measurement.
While women have been hailing the provisions, some have been calling for the ACA to be repealed.
“Unfortunately, presidential nominee Mitt Romney and the Republicans in Congress would take away these rights for women,” Schwartz says.
The coverage of women’s contraception has been the subject of much controversy. Opponents of contraception have filed court cases and pressured politicians to overturn the policy. The Blunt-Rubio bill, introduced to the Senate on February 9, would allow employers to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage and related services on the basis of religious beliefs or moral convictions.