Newsman Walter Cronkite once said, “America’s health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” He might be pleasantly surprised to learn that the new Affordable Care Act comes closer to being all three – at least where women are concerned.

When the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ACA last week, it ensured that women in this country will enjoy many health care provisions long denied them. Not only will the ACA improve women’s overall health, mitigate medical gender discrimination and bolster women’s economic security, it helps rid us, once and for all, of the outdated notion that being a woman is a pre-existing condition.

No one is painting the ACA as perfect, but even here in wealthy Connecticut, 12 percent of the female population (more than 130,000 women ages 18-64) were without health insurance in 2009, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Here’s a quick look at some of the top ways women will benefit from the new system:

Preventive health care. Under the ACA, all new insurance plans must cover preventive care without out-of-pocket costs (such as deductibles, coinsurance and co-payments). This means that out-of-pocket costs will no longer deter women from getting mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, or contraception, among other preventive services.

For some perspective on how this affects the state: In Connecticut, 167,710 women rely on publicly supported contraceptive services because they have incomes below 250% of the federal poverty level or are sexually active teenagers, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Benefits to families. The new law recognizes that if women are not well, their families don’t thrive. To this end, domestic violence is finally being recognized as detrimental to women’s health, and women victimized by domestic violence may now get help for it without out-of-pocket costs. When it comes to domestic violence, Connecticut is no exception. The Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) reports that in fiscal year 2012-11, its 18 agencies served 54,175 individual victims of domestic violence. Another benefit to families begins early in life: well-child visits and breastfeeding supports are included as preventive services, because they help avert future negative health consequences.

Protection against cancellation. Under the new law, insurance companies can no longer cancel your policy if you get sick. This abhorrent practice, know by the euphemism “rescission,” has been abolished under ACA, meaning that women who develop breast cancer, for example, cannot be booted out of a plan. This is good news for Connecticut, which ranks second among the 50 states in the incidence of breast cancer, with 3,280 new cases diagnosed in 2011 alone. It also prevents companies from cancelling policies because of clerical errors; only in the case of provable, intentional fraud can a policy-holder be denied coverage.

Pre-existing conditions irrelevant. It’s a known fact that chronic illnesses affect women in greater numbers than they do men. Starting in 2014, the ACA will create “high risk pools” for people with chronic illness or pre-existing conditions. This is a huge boon to all those who have been denied coverage because of ill health.  And effective immediately, children with pre-existing conditions and/or disabilities will be fully insurable.

Eliminates rating discrimination. For far too long, being a woman has, de facto, constituted having a pre-existing condition, because gender has dictated discriminatory premiums. Shocking as it may be, before the enactment of the ACA, insurance companies were allowed to charge women more than they do men for the same medical coverage – sometimes up to 150% more – simply because they are female. But beginning in 2014, this gender discrimination will end. This is a huge plus for women, who make up the majority of those filing for medical bankruptcy.

Reduces racial inequities. One of the provisions in the ACA is to consider HIV/AIDS services among the preventive health benefits. Because racial and ethnic populations have been disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Connecticut, this will go a long way in reducing some racial disparities.

For example, although African-Americans and Hispanics represent 10.1% and 13.4% of Connecticut’s population, respectively, 65% of reported HIV/AIDS infections are among these populations, according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health. Among women, the disparities are even more dramatic, with black/African-American and Hispanic women representing 73% of females with AIDS, and 72.3% of females with HIV infection.

Family members on Medicare. Women remain the primary caregivers of elderly parents and sick children. The Affordable Care Act protects current Medicare benefits and strengthens future benefits. These measures will help cut families’ costs, and in so doing, will help prevent medically induced erosion of women’s assets.

Extended coverage for young adults. In this tough economy, young adults are finding it increasingly difficult to find work, let alone employer-sponsored health care. Now, children up to age 26 may stay on their parents’ plan, regardless of the child’s marital status or place of residence. Again, this is a boon to Connecticut where, according to the Connecticut Office of Health Care Access, one-third of the state’s uninsured are young adults aged 19-29.

Choice of health care provider. Under the ACA, insured persons will have greater choices when it comes to choosing a doctor. And, significantly, women cannot be required to get a referral for ob/gyn care.

To be sure, the Affordable Care Act involved compromise and is not an across-the-board panacea. But it sure feels like the best news for women in a long, long time.

Leave a comment