Say what you will about the Affordable Care Act – the much-touted, much-maligned health care reform legislation – but you can say with certainty that it will enhance health care access for women. A recent report of the Commonwealth Fund, “Oceans Apart,” shows that American women, both with and without health insurance – fair far worse in health care coverage and access than women in 10 other industrialized nations, all of which have universal health insurance systems.
The report states that reasons for this disparity include that women use more health care services compared with men, especially during their childbearing years, and, on average, have lower incomes. They are more likely than men to be insured through a spouse or partner’s employer, which puts them at a disadvantage in a divorce, death or an employer’s decision to eliminate dependent coverage. Women also are charged higher premiums than men in most states in the individual insurance market, the report adds, and they can rarely get a plan that covers maternity care.
The result: In the past year, 43 percent of American women reported they went without recommended care, did not seek a doctor when sick, or failed to fill prescriptions because of cost. Among the 11 nations compared in the report, the next highest percentages were in Germany and Australia, 28 percent; the lowest was in the United Kingdom, 7 percent.
The Affordable Care Act, the report states, “will dramatically reduce women’s exposure to high health care costs and eliminate many of their cost burdens and barriers to care.” Here are some of the ways it will do so:
- Health insurance plans not in existence when the law was enacted in 2010 are required to cover recommended preventive services including screenings for breast and cervical cancer and osteoporosis without cost to the individual.
- Young adults are allowed to stay on or enroll in their parents’ health plans until age 26. That’s good for women: Those ages 19 to 29 had among the highest uninsured rates of any age group.
- People with pre-existing conditions, including pregnancy, are able to get health insurance in all states, with plans that limit out-of-pocket costs. More than half of the nearly 62,000 people who have enrolled in these plans are women, the Commonwealth Fund report states.
- The legislation expands support for pregnant women, new mothers and those seeking family planning services.
The report acknowledges the importance of the legislation’s reforms designed to reduce health care costs, “eliminate waste and accelerate the widespread adoption of innovative care delivery models.” Achieving these goals, the report concludes, “will be necessary to ensure that women can fully reap the benefits of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance expansions and enjoy protection from the risk of catastrophic health care costs in the event of serious illness.” For the sake of my mother, sisters, daughter, friends and – yes – myself, I believe these changes are just what the doctor ordered.