Women may be the ones who make health care decisions for their families, but when it comes to being able to afford health insurance for themselves or pay their medical bills, it's women who take a serious shellacking.
Women are more likely than men to skip preventive care because of the high costs, have trouble paying their medical bills, and be underinsured. The Affordable Care Act, signed into law one year ago this week, was designed to change all that -- and it is already having an enormously positive impact on millions of women and their families. But court challenges and Congressional efforts to repeal or take away funding for the landmark legislation, should they succeed, will compromise women's health and weaken their already tenuous hold on the fragile economic recovery. These efforts must not succeed.
The disparities that women face in health insurance and the high cost of medical care take a huge economic toll when women can least afford it: women, who are poorer than men on average, are currently getting less than one of every 10 new jobs created in the economic recovery. The insurance market's failure to meet women's needs also affects the economy because the costs of health care for uninsured or underinsured people are passed on to all of us.
Mindy F., a 35-year-old mother of three in Denver, learned that the hard way. Mindy and her family were insured through their family-owned motorcycle dealership. Over two years ago, large dark bruises on her legs sent her to the hospital. Leukemia. Then another blow: the business she and her husband ran collapsed under the weight of the recession -- and with it the family's health insurance. She could not get affordable coverage on the individual insurance market because of her pre-existing condition. How would she pay for her $5,000-a-month chemotherapy treatments?
"I was reeling from fear and exhaustion," Mindy told us. "It was like being kicked repeatedly." Her only option was to move to Texas, leaving her three young children with her husband, to work for her brother-in-law and get health insurance through his business. These are the desperate lengths to which some people are forced to go.
After three months of being separated from her family, Mindy returned home when her husband opened a new business and secured group insurance.
And now, because of the expensive care she requires, Mindy will benefit from one of the new law's provisions already in effect: Americans who have costly medical conditions no longer face loss of their insurance because insurers are now prohibited from imposing lifetime limits on coverage.
And millions of Americans are benefiting from the law's other provisions that took effect last fall. The law now bans insurance companies from denying coverage to children who have pre-existing conditions, a provision that will apply to everyone in three years. For women, that means less worry about their children now, and before too long, an end to such discriminatory practices as being denied coverage for being pregnant, having had a Caesarean section, or surviving domestic violence or sexual assault.
Now, all Americans joining a new health care plan can receive certain preventive services, like mammograms, Pap tests, new baby care and well-child visits, with no out-of-pocket costs. And now millions of young adults can stay on their parents' health insurance plans until they turn 26 -- another crucial step that is helping protect young people who are jobless in this difficult economy.
When the new law fully takes effect in three years, it will, among other things, provide no-cost and subsidized health insurance to those who lack affordable coverage and end insurers' widespread and discriminatory practice of charging women higher premiums than they charge men of the same age -- all vital advances for women and their families.
"Before I was diagnosed, I rarely thought about health insurance, but now I find that I think about it almost every day," Mindy said. "I've learned there are no guarantees in life. And it's precisely because of this that people need to be able to get good affordable insurance that backs them up when they need it most."
The Affordable Care Act will do just that. Those in Congress who are intent on repealing or defunding the law must be stopped in their tracks. And our courts must respect legal precedent and reject the ill-founded legal challenges to the law. Americans' health hangs in the balance.
Marcia D. Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, was instrumental in bringing women's voices to the forefront of the health care reform debate.