Today is a big day for women’s health. Under the Affordable Care Act which goes into effect today, August 1st 2012, it is estimated that up to 47 million women may be eligible to gain free access to preventative health care services.
The most controversial provision under President Obama’s health care reform is the coverage of birth control at no cost to the woman. Catholic-affiliated institutions especially have objected strongly to the act. In response, the Obama administration offered an accommodation, forcing the insurance companies to pay for the coverage. The accommodation wasn’t good enough for the religious associations. They still object, as do Republicans. Republican leaders have promised to repeal the entire law if they win enough seats in the November election.
Other non-co-pay services which are included in the mandate are:
- Well-woman visits – including an annual check-up.
- Gestational diabetes screening for women 24 to 28 weeks pregnant, and those at high risk of developing gestational diabetes.
- HPV DNA testing every three years for women who are 30 or older, regardless of Pap smear results. HPV screening reduces the prevalence of cervical cancer.
- Annual sexually transmitted infections (STI) counseling for sexually-active women.
- HIV screening and counseling for sexually-active women.
- Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling for pregnant and postpartum women.
- Interpersonal and domestic violence screening and counseling for all adolescent and adult women.
An estimated 25 percent of U.S. women report being targets of intimate partner violence during their lifetimes. Screenings will lead to interventions to increase their safety.
Unfortunately, uninsured women will still be paying out of pocket for these services. The new rules only apply to women who are already insured. However, once the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, even uninsured women will be able to participate in the free services.
Also starting today, Americans will get refunds from health insurance companies that spend too much on administrative expenses such as utilities, salaries, and clerical costs. The law requires health insurance companies to spend at least 80 percent of premiums on actual medical care, not overhead costs.
Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, in a news conference on noted that before the law was passed, many insurance plans didn’t cover basic women’s health services, or they charged high deductibles and co-payments. Even though this law is still subject to legal challenges, specifically in regards to Catholic groups’ objections, Sebelius spoke as if it were final, bolstering hope for women across the country.
Sebelius said, “For too long insurance companies have stacked the deck against women, forcing us to pay more for coverage that didn’t meet our needs.”
Free Birth Control Pills
Another part of the Affordable Care Act goes into effect today. 47 million American women will now have access to free contraceptives.