If we can set aside the political wrangling and focus on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), what becomes obvious is its critically important impact on women’s health.
The fact is: While women are the primary coordinators of health care for families and comprise the majority of U.S. health-care workers, they also put their own health-care needs behind those of their children. Cost is too often the reason.
A 2009 Commonwealth Fund study found that more than half of women delayed or avoided preventive care because of cost. And access to affordable health care has been particularly difficult for low-income women and families.
Unfortunately, many chronic diseases responsible for 7 in 10 deaths each year are often preventable and account for 75 percent of the nation’s health-care spending. The unintended consequence is an increase in health-care costs for everyone else.
The Affordable Care Act changes this dynamic.
Prevention is now affordable for all Americans because health plans are required to cover recommended preventive services without cost sharing. For women, this means coverage for, among other services, mammograms; screening for cervical cancer; well-woman visits; breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling; contraceptive methods and counseling; and screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence.
Going forward, the Supreme Court ruling that upheld the ACA ensures that by 2014 insurance plans can no longer charge women more than men for insurance premiums based on sex or gender or deny coverage for men and women with pre-existing conditions. The ruling also kept in place essential consumer protections related specifically to family planning and sexual health.
The ACA also requires insurance plans to contract with safety-net providers, including Title X providers like the Arizona Family Health Partnership which, in 2011, served more than 40,000 mostly low-income women, men and teens through statewide partnerships with community-based health clinics.
If fully implemented, the ACA could expand health-care coverage to 32 million Americans by 2014.
We know challenges to the ACA will continue. Some state leaders have already made clear their intention to reject the option to expand Medicaid coverage to millions of poor and low-income individuals.
We also know that those state officials will be ignoring strong scientific research supporting the health – and financial – benefits of preventive services. They’ll also be shoving aside credible data showing that expanding publicly funded medical care, especially family planning services, actually saves federal and state governments billions of dollars each year and strengthens the public health safety net.
Research shows that every dollar of public funding for contraceptive and preventive services saves $3.74 in costs for prenatal, pregnancy-related and medical care for newborns, or $3.4 billion that otherwise would have been borne by Medicaid.
With the ACA now the law of the land, policy makers must understand the critical importance of ensuring and promoting the health and well-being of millions of Americans.
After all, isn’t a healthy America a better, more productive and stronger America?
Brenda “Bré” Thomas is CEO of the Arizona Family Health Partnership a Title X-funded 501(c)3 nonprofit agency, providing reproductive health care and education to all women, men and teens in Arizona through a network of health clinics across the state. For more information, visit www.arizonafamilyhealth.org.