On the six-month anniversary of the passage of the new health care law, much of America is either scratching its head or spewing bile. Us? We're celebrating. Yes, celebrating. Today the first new provisions of the Affordable Care Act go into effect and millions of women and families now have access to health care benefits and protections that will improve their lives.
Let's be clear. Despite its unacceptable provisions on abortion, the Affordable Care Act represents the biggest advance for women's health in 45 years. For far too long, women have paid more to get less from our health care system. This new law helps redress that injustice. When the full provisions of the law take effect in 2014, millions more women will be covered. Women will no longer be charged more for care than men. And women will not be denied coverage because they are sick or pregnant.
For that reason, we have been celebrating ever since the president signed this historic measure into law six month ago.
Media reports say that many people don't know much about the specifics in the new health care law. That's why we have put together a short video with one of our friends, the splendid actress Julianne Moore that highlights the things you want to know and tell your friends.
It's more critical now than ever before that we do tell our friends. We have a fight on our hands -- because some in Congress want to use the power of the purse to stop this new law in its tracks. We are six weeks away from the midterm elections and far too many candidates -- not to mention so many in the Republican Party -- are dead set on repealing or defunding this law. We cannot ignore this threat. To do so would be a huge step backward for women. And we've had enough of those.
Here is what progress for women looks like. Starting today, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, American women can get coverage for lifesaving preventive services -- including mammograms, immunization, and wellness visits -- for free. These preventive services have been a major cause of higher deductibles and co-pays for women. Today, that part of the inequity is history!
In addition, today, important new protections go into effect to protect not only women, but their families as well. Insurance companies can no longer drop coverage when someone gets sick, young adults can remain on their parents plans until they are 26, and children can no longer be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition. Women are often denied coverage for so-called "pre-existing" conditions such as breast cancer or even pregnancy.
Starting today, the new law makes health care coverage more secure by ensuring that working families cannot be denied coverage due to a child's pre-existing condition or lose their coverage.
That is cause for a big celebration -- especially in tough economic times like these.
Women, above all, have much to celebrate. The fact is we have consistently gotten the short end of the stick in our broken health care system. Women are routinely charged higher premiums than men. But, when fully implemented, the Affordable Care Act will end those discriminatory practices.
That's also why this upcoming election is, literally, do or die. The Tea Party and Republican candidates are threatening to bring down the new health care law. If they succeed, the consequences for women would be disastrous, undermining important patient protections that are not only common sense, but also needed to ensure that everyone has access to affordable health care.
So share our friend Julianne's video with your friends; talk to them about how beneficial this health care law is and why it's so important to protect. And remind them about these critical benefits:
-Guarantee that preventive care, including lifesaving screenings for breast and cervical cancer, and immunizations, are covered at no cost.
-Stop the discriminatory practice of charging women more than men for health insurance.
-Significantly increase access to reproductive health care, including family planning.
-End insurance abuses such as denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions and dropping individuals after they become sick.
-Expand coverage for young adults by allowing them to stay on their parents' health plan until age 26.
-Provide 75 million dollars for sex education and teen pregnancy prevention.
-And ultimately extend health care coverage to tens of millions of women and families who currently don't have insurance.
Perhaps one of the most unknown potential benefits of the new health law is that it may cover all FDA-approved contraception as preventive care. This provision is still a year away from being decided, but if it goes into effect that means women will be able to fully access the birth control method of their choice, since it will be covered under their insurance plan with no co-pays.
The new law is not perfect. The abortion provisions set up a complicated system requiring two separate payments from individuals, one for abortion coverage and one for all other health care coverage. Fortunately, the new health law does not include the complete and total ban on private health insurance coverage for abortion that Planned Parenthood helped successfully defeat. That means health plans will still be able to offer comprehensive insurance coverage (including abortion coverage) as long as private funds pay for such coverage.
As these important provisions go into effect this week, we hope you'll watch the video, learn about all the positive benefits in the new health law, and forward it to your friends. And over the next six weeks, we hope you'll speak out against those who want repeal the law and take away these benefits.
*Cecile Richards is president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, PPFA's advocacy and political arm.