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The Hidden Winners of Healthcare Reform: Women Over 40

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The New York Times has proclaimed that uninsured Americans are the biggest beneficiaries of the health care reform legislation that was passed yesterday. But reform will also be a boon to a less obvious group, women over 40.

More job flexibility.

A lot of over-40 women are entrepreneurs today, either by choice or by virtue of having been downsized. Either way, they are making a big contribution: Women-owned businesses bring nearly $3 trillion to the national economy and create or maintain 23 million jobs. But affordable health insurance has been a problem for these small business owners, and now that huge barrier has been removed. In the immediate future, the new legislation sets up tax credits to help offset this financial burden, and in the longer term mandates that by 2014 exchanges will be established in which small firms can pool resources to buy health coverage.

Easier access to mammograms.

This year the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new guidelines that raised concerns about mammograms becoming less available to women under 50. However, six months after the enactment of the new legislation, private plans must cover preventive care, with no co-payments and no deductibles.

Better protection for children.

Children will be allowed to remain on their parents' insurance plans until they're 26. This is a big financial help to the many women who are now paying for individual insurance for their unemployed or uninsured twentysomethings.

Ends the fear of maxing out on coverage.

By the time a woman reaches 40, she may have experienced enough health issues that she's bumping up against lifetime coverage limits -- but now that restriction will be eliminated within six months. Insurance companies are also losing the ability to drop subscribers of individual plans when they get sick. This will greatly benefit people with chronic illnesses, which tend to occur in midlife and to strike women more often than men. Rates of autoimmune disease, for example, have doubled and tripled in recent decades, and women are four times more likely than men to be diagnosed.

Helps early retirees.

Ninety days after the enactment of the bill, a temporary reinsurance program will help pay the insurance premiums of retirees age 55 to 64. This will help all early retirees, but especially those who "retired" precipitously and unwillingly when they lost their jobs post-meltdown and have not been able to find another.

In her speech right before the vote, Nancy Pelosi said, "After we pass this bill, being a woman will no longer be a preexisting medical condition." On behalf of women over 40, I agree -- and applaud.

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