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Women and Obamacare

What Now?


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In 2009, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius gave the following testimony: “Health care costs are crushing families, businesses, and government budgets. Since 2000, health insurance premiums have almost doubled and health care premiums have grown three times faster than wages. Just last month, a survey found over half of all Americans, insured and uninsured, cut back on health care in the last year due to cost. And behind these statistics are stories of struggles for too many American families.  Families who face rising premiums – now over $12,000, when it was $6,000 a decade ago.  Parents choosing between health insurance and their mortgage because they can’t make ends meet because their paycheck is standing still but health care costs are rising much faster than inflation.  Today health care costs are the big squeeze on middle class families and these challenges are growing as the economic picture worsens.  And on top of all of this, in the last eight years an additional seven million Americans have become uninsured.”   

Sebelius made these remarks not soon after being sworn in Health and Human Services Secretary. At that point she was part of the Obama administration’s vanguard in pushing health care reform forward. Fast forward five years and the claims that Sebelius made in her testimony before the ways and means committee may become distant nightmarish memories for many Americans. Now that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), otherwise known as Obamacare, is the law of the land (despite some persistent challenges), what does that mean for women?

Valarie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to the President, notes that “By eliminating barriers like copays, co-insurance, and deductibles, secure, affordable coverage is quickly becoming a reality for millions of American women and families.”

Indeed, in a recent White House Blog, Secretary Sebelius notes that “Important preventive services are now available to women at no additional cost.  These include an annual well woman visit, screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer; certain contraceptive methods; smoking-cessation treatment and services; breastfeeding support and equipment; screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence; immunizations; and many more.  Thanks to the health care law, more than 47 million women have guaranteed access to preventive services without cost-sharing. These preventive services are critical to keeping women healthy.  For example, breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women and the second leading cause of cancer death for women in the US, after lung cancer. But when breast cancer is caught early and treated, survival rates can be near 100 percent.”

Because of the ACA, an estimated 30 million Americans will gain access to health insurance by 2021.  Women are some of the fastest growing populations becoming infected with HIV. Health insurance coverage means access to critical HIV testing and prevention services, as well as access to life-extending care and treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS. The ACA is poised to have a significant effect on women living with HIV/AIDS

The Atlantic reports, “The ACA’s subsidies might help women in particular because they also tend to go to doctors more: They live longer, have reproductive needs, and often manage the health of their children and aging parents in addition to their own, according to Alina Salganicoff, the director of women’s health at the Kaiser Family Foundation.”

By and large, women stand much to gain in the implementation of the ACA. However, the bill is still being targeted by opponents on a variety of grounds, from religious objections to issues with the potential cost, not to mention the fallout from the embarrassing rollout and initially substandard website.  Still, just last week the number Americans signed up for services at www.healthcare.gov totaled over 6 million, a decisive victory for the embattled ACA. Only time will tell what impact the ACA will have on women’s access to health care and the quality of that health care. We’ll be staying tuned.


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