In what is being called an “historic” day for women’s health, eight major women’s preventive health initiatives under the Affordable Care Act went into effect today. These preventive services give women more control over their own health, without incurring any additional costs, say women’s health advocates.
Starting today (August 1, 2012), most health insurance plans must cover free of charge
- well woman visits
- gestational diabetes screenings
- domestic violence screening and counseling
- FDA-approved contraceptive methods and counseling
- breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling
- HPV DNA testing for women older than age 30
- sexually transmitted infection counseling
- HIV screening and counseling for sexually active women
An estimated 47 million women will benefit from these changes by the end of this year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.
“This is part of a great victory for women’s health,” said Cindy Pearson, Executive Director of the National Women’s Health Network. She and other members of Hervotes, a coalition of over 50 national women’s organizations working to mobilize women voters about health and economic rights, talked about the importance of making these benefits more accessible for women at a press conference yesterday.
“Women of all ages have already started to receive expanded services and protections, and women will experience even more benefits in 2014,” Pearson added. That is when the remaining Affordable Care Act provisions become effective.
Having at least one well woman visit to implement these preventive services is very important, said Paula Johnson, MD, Director of Women’s Health at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a member of the Institute of Medicine panel that recommended coverage of these services. “The care that women receive is often fragmented. They need different types of care across the lifespan.”
Dr. Johnson added that these eight services should go a long way for helping to prevent illness and creating a healthier female population throughout their lives.
Eleanor Smeal, President of The Feminist Majority Foundation, said “this is the most important legislative advancement for women since Title IX” – the 1972 federal civil rights law that banned sex discrimination in education. The Affordable Care Act also has a non-discrimination clause, she explained, so women no longer have to pay a higher price for the same coverage. This is a big celebration for both women’s health and for women’s rights, Smeal emphasized.
Here’s more of what Eleanor had to say
“The well woman package makes it a standard of care of preventive services that will help not only the woman but her family, and her community,” she added. “This is indeed a major advance for women, for their rights, and we’ll fight for them,” she emphasized.
Smeal pointed to the movement in the House to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but said that women’s groups are determined that this law remains on the books.
Judy Waxman, Vice President of Health and Reproductive Rights at the National Women’s Law Center and an expert on the new law, applauded Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) for ensuring that these benefits were included in the health care legislation. “These new preventive services are a major step forward for all women and girls in this country, and I would add for the women’s partners and their children as well.”
Waxman reiterated that while not everyone would immediately receive these benefits, over time, all new health plans will be required to cover them without a co-pay as preventive health services. Ultimately every woman will have these services covered in her insurance plan.
The members of Hervotes are planning a number of activities over the next few weeks to get the word out about these new services, including bus tours, door-to-door advocacy, phone banks and a large presence online. “We will be as active as we can telling women of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and what’s at risk if we should go backwards,” said Smeal. “This is something for the public health and the public good.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more news about women’s services under the ACA and how this may affect the upcoming Presidential, state, and local elections.