On Sunday, May 8th, Americans across the country said thank you to their moms with flowers, cards, and phone calls.  This week, as we celebrate National Women’s Health Week, there’s another way you can show your appreciation for the women in your life: make sure they know about the important new protections and benefits for them in the new Affordable Care Act, leading to better health and lower costs.

Here are four things about the law all women should know:

First, pre-existing conditions will no longer keep you from getting affordable private insurance. Because of the work we do, women are less likely to have jobs with health coverage than are men.  That meant we often had to look for a plan on the individual market where insurers were free to deny us coverage because of a breast cancer diagnosis or even because you had been a victim of domestic violence. If your daughter had diabetes, they could deny her coverage, too.

But that’s changing. Today, insurers are prohibited from denying coverage to children because of their pre-existing health conditions.  And in 2014, this protection will extend to all Americans.  The days of being denied health insurance because of your health status will be over.

The second thing women should know is that being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition in the insurance market. We all know women have different health needs than men. Before the health care law, insurers could charge women up to 50 percent more for exactly the same health insurance.  Even worse, 80 percent of health plans that women bought on their own didn’t even cover maternity care.

But that’s changing too.  Starting in 2014, if you buy your own insurance, there will be a new, competitive marketplace where you can see all the available plans in one place and pick the coverage that best suits your needs and budget. And there will be a few basic rules for these plans, so they cover the likely health needs of women.  It will be illegal for insurers to charge women more than men.  And they’ll be required to cover newborn and maternity care.  In other words, women will see lower costs and better coverage.

A third key change is that it’s easier to get preventive care. Over the years, too many women have gone without potentially life-saving cancer screenings like mammograms due to expensive co-pays. That’s bad for women, and it’s bad for our health care system too since treating health problems you catch early is usually more successful and more cost-effective than treating those you catch too late.

The health care law is giving women some relief.  Now, anyone who joins a new health plan will be able to get key preventive care from Pap smears to mammograms without paying a co-pay or deductible. And that also applies to preventive care like vaccinations for your children.

Finally, the fourth thing women should know is that Medicare is getting stronger. Every day, tens of millions of seniors count on Medicare benefits and most of them are women.  Starting this year, more than 9,000 baby boomers turn 65 every day. But there have been two problems.  First, there have been some critical gaps in coverage, especially for prescription drugs.  Second, costs have been rising too fast, threatening our ability to preserve Medicare for our children and grandchildren.

The health care law addresses both of these problems. First, it’s gradually closing the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap known as the donut hole. This year, seniors in the donut hole will get a 50 percent discount on covered brand-name drugs. By 2020, the donut hole will disappear. And under the law, seniors can get an annual wellness exam and  key preventive screenings without co-pays beginning this year..

At the same time, we are getting much tougher on the criminal who would steal from individual seniors or steal from the Medicare system, thanks to the unprecedented new tools and resources to crack down on fraud in the new law.  We used to lose tens of billions of dollars to criminals from the Medicare Trust Fund each year, and those days are coming to an end. And it provides new support and incentives to help doctors and nurses across the country adopt best practices that can improve care and lower costs.

That’s just the start of what’s in the law for women and all Americans, and you can learn more by visiting HealthCare.gov — a terrific one-stop shop for information about the law and insurance plans available in your zip code.

The health care law won’t fix all the problems for women in our health care system.  But it’s a big step in the right direction.  So this National Women’s Health Week, give the women in your life the gift of better health, and make sure they know what the health care law is doing for them. 

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