Affordable insurance means better access to preventive healthcare services for everyone, but especially for women.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) isn’t just about making it easier for Americans to buy health insurance. It guarantees coverage for essential preventive services that can help people stay healthy, like annual check-ups and cancer screenings, and for services such as mental health care and maternity care.
Because the ACA, or Obamacare, says that insurance companies can’t turn people away or cut them off because of a pre-existing or newly diagnosed condition, it also means women can’t be denied coverage if they’re pregnant or be forced to pay a higher premium just because they’re women, says Ebonee Rice, national young American and women’s engagement director at Enroll America.
These are all vitally important provisions for women, who could be denied coverage or charged more before the ACA. But the biggest change in women’s health under the ACA is birth control access, says Danielle Terry, RN, BSN, MPH, director of patient services, Central and East Region, for Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan.
Under the ACA, every plan must cover all FDA-approved methods of birth control. In the past, many plans didn’t cover birth control at all, or didn’t cover every form of contraception.
“The birth control options for women have really expanded because insurers have to provide coverage for any method, with no co-pay,” Terry says. “A lot more women are choosing long-acting reversible contraceptives because they no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars for them.”
Long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) like the IUD and birth control implant are the most effective form of contraception — 20 times more effective than the pill, the patch and the ring, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Preventing unintended pregnancies isn’t just about waiting until the time is right to have children, however, Terry says.
When women can space out their pregnancies, it’s better for them and for their children because it reduces infant mortality when you’re not having babies back to back.
Because Planned Parenthood provides a full range of women’s health services, they offer the Pap tests that can detect cervical cancer, which are covered at no cost by the ACA. They also offer sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing, pelvic exams and clinical breast exams that should be part of every woman’s routine care.
“Preventive services allow you to catch things earlier, which means a higher likelihood of surviving,” Rice says, “or maybe not even developing something at all.”
Terry says Planned Parenthood is seeing more women coming in who have insurance, often under Michigan’s Medicaid expansion program, Healthy Michigan, but points out that Planned Parenthood cares for women who have private insurance, too.
Some women come to us because we were here for them when they didn’t have insurance, and they keep coming to us because they really like our services and feel comfortable coming here. That sends a strong message about the kind of service we provide. And if you pay for your visit, it might help someone else who isn’t able to get care.
Although the uninsured rate is dropping thanks to the ACA, some people still fall through the cracks. One reason is because people don’t realize how affordable health insurance can be now under the ACA.
“People think it costs a lot, but it’s comprehensive coverage — and your entire household can get covered as well,” Terry says.
More than 7 in 10 Americans can find coverage for $75 a month or less with the help of tax credits.
Educating women on insurance affordability is particularly important given that women make 80 percent of the health decisions for their families, according to Rice and research conducted by Enroll America. “Women are the gatekeepers,” she says.
That’s one reason Enroll America is actively engaging women through a variety of strategies. For example, on Friday, November 13 at 1 pm ET, Enroll America and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. are hosting a Twitter chat about the health of women, especially black women. You can join in at @dstinc1913 or by using the hashtag #AfAmHealth.
Enroll America is also partnering with Mocha Moms to train volunteers to make chase calls to ensure that people who start the insurance enrollment process complete it. Anyone can volunteer to help make calls for Enroll America by emailing [email protected].
The goal of all these endeavors is to encourage women and their families to sign up for the coverage they need to stay healthy. Enroll America has created a new tool — the Get Covered Plan Explorer — that lets consumers compare insurance plans to find exactly what they’re looking for.
It lets you know what’s in your network, check if your doctors and prescriptions are covered, and see exactly what you’re qualified for, including financial assistance. Like most women, I have one OB/GYN who will be mine forever — I’d be devastated if I had to switch doctors. We know that’s extremely important to women, and this tool helps women find the plan that best meets their needs.
Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan is also helping with enrollment, with kiosks at its health centers in Ferndale, Warren, Detroit and Livonia. The kiosks are equipped with laptops and the staff has been trained to answer basic enrollment questions. The goal is to help reduce barriers to insurance.
“Getting covered — and having your whole family covered — is so important,” Terry adds. “Being able to see a doctor in the office instead of having to go to the ER is good for women and their families.”
Open enrollment runs until January 31st, 2016, but you have to buy or renew your plan by December 15th to be covered starting January 1, 2016. You can get started and sign up at Healthcare.gov.