Health care has always been a significant concern for women, being that they have unique health care needs, and in many cases are the primary decision makers when it comes to matters around health care within their families. Resources specific to women’s health, such as the book “Our Bodies, Our Selves”, have been wildly popular, for such resources are necessary for women to gain an understanding of the issues specific to their health and sexuality, such as menopause, birth control, childbirth, sexual health, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health and general well-being. Once a woman has an understanding of her health and body, she is empowered to make decisions that are most beneficial to her and her family. However, as women take control of their health by arming themselves with the knowledge to make decisions about their bodies, they are often times unable to follow through on the best course of action because of blocks through the current health care system, particularly women of lower socioeconomic status, who have fewer resources available to them. Thus, the Affordable Care Act, referred to by many as the ACA, stands as an extremely important advance in women’s health, for it creates financial relief for millions of women across the country, eliminates gender discrimination and predatory practices by health insurance companies, produces an environment in which it is feasible to obtain necessary preventative care, supports elderly women in taking care of their health, and gives women the choice and power to make the decision that will benefit them most, without providing the barriers in obtaining that care that the current system has. But, how does this piece of legislation do all of this? Let’s break it down a bit.
The ACA helps to alleviate financial stress for women.
As a woman who has had many health scares in the past decade, and struggles to make ends meet with a job in the nonprofit world, I can speak from experience when I say that the barriers to achieving the necessary testing and medications that are best for me in the long run are often times the ones that set me back financially. I am forced to make the all too common decision of whether or not I want to make a bill payment this month or go in for the suggested biopsy by my OBGYN. I come from a place of privilege when I say that I have been able to choose the biopsy, yet that one test has been costing me over the past year, and the end result has been many late bill payments, sacrificed for the sake of my overall health. And I know I am not alone when I give this scenario, as statistically it is reported that nearly one third of women must forgo basic necessities in order to obtain health care (citation). Women across the country are forced to decide between groceries for their families and medical exams or medication, and in my opinion this is inhumane. The ACA helps to alleviate this financial stress in many ways, first of which being that millions of women who were previously unable to afford to buy into a health insurance policy, are now able to. By 2014, changes to the health care system under the ACA could make nearly 19 million previously uninsured women eligible for affordable coverage through subsidies and Medicaid coverage (citation).
The ACA sets forth a standard of gender equality.
The ACA will not only help to provide insurance for women who were previously unable to have any due to them lacking employer sponsored health insurance, but it will prohibit companies from charging women higher premiums simply because of their gender. Currently, many health insurance companies practice what is known as gender rating, which means that a healthy 22-year-old woman can be charged premiums 150 percent higher than a 22-year-old-man. That’s right; a woman is charged more than a man, for no reason other than her gender. While this is on face discrimination, it has been allowable until the Affordable Care Act, which for the first time in history will prohibit gender discrimination in all federally funded health care.
The Affordable Care Act goes a step further in promoting gender equality, as it ends the predatory practices that have allowed insurance companies to refuse coverage for women who get breast cancer, have C-sections, receive treatment for domestic violence, or have chronic conditions. Insurers deny coverage under the claim that the aforementioned are pre-existing conditions, and instead lump them into a category of individuals that are too risky to provide health care to. Thus in certain cases, if a woman develops breast cancer, or is beaten by her partner, she is no longer an eligible candidate for health care down the line. This former practice is outrageous, and the ACA takes the necessary steps to promote equality in health care and send the message that health care should be available for everyone, regardless of life circumstances.
Additionally, the ACA will guarantee preventive services, such as birth control, mammograms, and cervical cancer screenings which are crucial to women’s health, with no deductibles or copays.
The ACA supports senior women as they navigate the complicated health care system.
The passing of this piece of legislation means many good things for senior citizens, such as laying the groundwork to improve quality and coordination of care through the new Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation. This coordination of care means that elderly will have help as they make their way through the health care system, hopefully resulting in less drug interaction problems, conflicting diagnoses, etc. The reform will also close the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap that a large number of elderly women fall into each year. This gap is more commonly referred to as the “donut hole”, and happens when individuals hit their Medicare prescription coverage limit and are forced to pay 100% of drug costs up to the point when Medicare begins to pay again.
The ACA creates an environment where women are empowered to choose health plans.
Being that the ACA creates an environment where barriers based on gender and socioeconomic status are broken down, women are able to express full autonomy when choosing health care that meets their needs. Just because a woman does not have access to health insurance through an employer, no longer means that she cannot have a health insurance policy without paying astronomical out of pocket costs. In a world where women, on average, have more contact with the health care system over their lifetime than men, due to the fact that the health care needs of women are greater, most notably during their reproductive years, this reform gives women the power to choose what is best for her health and act on that choice without having to face giant roadblocks, that often times prevent her from receiving care, along the way.
Shannon Nobles is a resident of Lansing, Michigan who works in the movement to end violence against women. She is a community and social justice activist, dabbles in freelance writing, and is working on perfecting her vegetarian cooking.
Image credit: americanprogress.org