As we mark Women’s Health Week 2012, women have a lot more reason to celebrate than they did last year. Thanks to recent laws, particularly the Affordable Care Act, more women are able to access preventative health care without the burdensome and sometimes cost-prohibitive co-pays and deductibles.
When it comes to accessing health care, women face a unique set of challenges. Women earn 77 cents on average for every dollar that men earn, yet they use more health care services than men. As a result, women have historically faced high levels of health care insecurity, and many encounter unpaid medical bills and long-lasting debt as a result of health problems.
One major way in which women’s health has improved this year is through the coverage of necessary preventive care. Soon, all new insurance plans will cover preventive health care screenings and services as defined by the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine. By supporting prevention and early detection of diseases, not only will women benefit from better physical health, but the financial strain on our health care system will also be reduced, and the economy as a whole will improve.
The two leading causes of death for women in America by far are heart disease and cancer — afflictions that can often be prevented if women have access to preventive care services such as screenings, immunizations, and educational materials. The Affordable Care Act contains a provision requiring insurance companies to cover, without co-pays or cost-sharing, preventive health care services such as screenings for domestic abuse and gestational diabetes as well as all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive services. After controversy over the inclusion of contraceptive coverage, the Obama administration announced an accommodation for religiously affiliated universities and employers, which allows insurers instead of employers to pay for this service.
Another advance is the end of “gender rating” practices. Gender rating is the process by which insurance companies charge men and women different premiums for individually purchased health care plans. A 2008 report found that at age 25, women were charged anywhere from 6 percent to 45 percent more than men for individual market plans; at age 45, women’s monthly premiums ranged from 4 percent to 48 percent higher than men’s monthly premiums. Under the Affordable Care Act, gender rating will be banned for plans offered in both the individual and small-group markets for organizations employing 100 people or fewer. Beginning in 2014, women in these plans will soon be charged the same rate as men.
Americans cannot continue to refuel our economy as productive members of the workforce if they are sick, saddled with health care costs, or — in the case of women — blatantly discriminated against by their insurance providers. As we mark Women’s Health Week, it’s important to recall the progress that has been made in fixing a broken health care system that, for too long, has cost too much and served too few.
AAUW is working to make sure that the voices of all women are heard regarding health care and much more. The AAUW Action Fund’s It’s My Vote: I Will Be Heard campaign is making an unprecedented investment in turning out women voters. AAUW is educating, engaging, and registering millennial (ages 18–30) women voters across the country. Together, we’ll ensure that women understand what’s at stake in 2012 and know how to use their voices and their votes to influence the election and protect women’s health care gains!