Health-care act is good for women
Women’s health care has been given low priority for many years. How? By excluding them from research studies, treating abuse as a pre-existing condition and charging women higher insurance premiums. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) addresses these and other practices that have discriminated against women. It improves coverage for preventative services and maternity care, promotes higher quality care and bans higher premiums for women.
Currently, 62 percent of individual insurance plans do not cover maternity care. Starting in 2014, all plans must have this coverage. This will benefit 8.7 million women and their babies. Prenatal care leads to healthy babies and reduces long-term costs.
Prevention of disease is an important feature of the ACA. Because of the act, insurers must cover 100 percent of the cost of mammograms, PAP tests, flu and pneumonia shots, well-baby/well-child visits, well-women visits, screening for gestational diabetes, domestic violence screening, breast feeding supplies and contraceptive services. Removing the cost of co-pays and deductibles increases access to these services, which in turn will save lives and reduce suffering.
Women represent 56.9 percent of Medicare recipients. Under the ACA, millions of women on Medicare receive free preventative services including an annual wellness visit, mammograms and bone mass screening for osteoporosis. Prescription drug coverage is expanding and costs are decreasing due to shrinking and eventually closing the “donut hole.” Women have saved $1.2 billion on drugs since the inception of ACA.
Beginning in 2014, insurers cannot charge different premiums based on gender or health status. Some plans now charge up to 81 percent more for women. Coverage can no longer be denied due to pre-existing conditions. Smokers can still be charged higher rates. Premiums will vary by age, but premiums for 64-year-olds cannot be more than three times the rate for 21-year-olds.
The ACA gives new authority to the Office of Women’s Health, within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to deal with disease prevention, health promotion, service delivery, research and public health. This will bring areas that have been neglected for women to the forefront.
Women own 35 percent of businesses with fewer than 25 employees. These small-business owners will receive tax credits to encourage them to provide health insurance to their employees, most of whom are women.
In North Carolina, 19 percent of women below 65 are uninsured. Additionally, many women are covered by their husband’s insurance. If the husband loses his job or women become widowed or divorced, they lose their coverage. Beginning Oct. 1, options for coverage for the uninsured will be offered through a “marketplace” where available plans can be compared. Subsidies will help individuals or families with incomes from 100 percent to 400 percent of the federal poverty level which is currently $11,490 for an individual and $23,550 for a family of four.
The N.C. legislature chose not to participate in setting up the marketplace or to fund the dissemination of information on the plans, but we will have options, and there are numerous sources of information about rates and subsidies. One of the most helpful is the Kaiser Family Foundation, which provides an online calculator to get an estimate of rates (www.kff.org). After Oct.1, the insurance companies offering plans in the state will make detailed information available. Individuals have until December to choose plans.
The Affordable Care Act strengthens health care for women in all age groups and for their families. Over 1 million young adult women have already gained insurance coverage, and an estimated 13.5 million more uninsured women will gain coverage in 2014. These are women who will not forgo screenings or medical procedures that can save lives, nor will they have to resort to expensive emergency room visits for routine health care, the use of which increases costs borne by everyone. As has been shown all over the world, the most effective way to improve the quality of life in a community is to take care of the women who in turn take of others. We are on the brink of a huge breakthrough in improving community health, and women appear to have to most to gain. I urge you to learn the facts and encourage everyone you love to take advantage of this program.
Nan Lund is a volunteer counselor with the Senior Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP).
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