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9 Reasons Why 2014 Will Be a Breakout Year for Women's Health

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It took 144 years for American women to win the right to vote. Now, some 94 years later, women have finally won the right to equal health care coverage. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) well under way, 2014 looks to be a breakout year for women's health. Here are nine reasons why.

1. Pregnancy is covered!

The cost of having a baby can total tens of thousands. A 2008 study by the National Women's Law Center revealed that only 21 percent of 3,500 health insurance plans provided any sort of maternity care for a 30 year-old woman -- and just 12 percent offered comprehensive maternity coverage. The ACA has changed that, requiring 10 essential benefits to be provided by all insurance plans -- one of which is maternity and newborn care. Historically, pregnancy was often treated as a "pre-existing condition" by insurance companies, and they would deny coverage or charge massively high premiums because of it. The ACA disallows this practice.

2. You can choose your OB/GYN

Health care reform dictates that insurance policy holders be allowed to choose any in-network OG/GYN without first needing a referral from a primary care doctor. You can also choose any network pediatrician as your child's primary care doctor.

This allows women to take charge of their own care and to ask important questions for choosing a high-value pregnancy provider. If you're pregnant, take the time to meet with obstetricians and make sure you find one you are comfortable with.

3. Breast cancer fatalities will (hopefully) continue to decrease

The frequency of breast cancer diagnoses began to decline in 2000, with a substantial decrease two years later. The Women's Health Initiative published a study in 2002 linking the use of hormone therapy to an increased risk of breast cancer and heart disease, triggering a broad discontinuance of the then-common menopause treatment. Incidence rates have been stable in recent years. Meanwhile, mortality rates for breast cancer have declined from their peak in 1990 by 34 percent due to improvements in early detection and treatment.

New studies continue to identify the causes of breast cancer, investigating the effects of exercise, diet, and weight gain or loss, as well as the environment on the incidence of breast cancer. The ACA also mandates breast cancer screening as part of its preventive health coverage. This includes no-charge mammograms for women over 40, as well as breast cancer genetic test counseling and chemoprevention counseling for women at a higher risk. No copay or coinsurance charges are due for these services, even if you haven't met your annual deductible -- as long as the services are provided by an in-network provider.

4. Breastfeeding services are now covered

Another benefit of the Affordable Care Act is access to breastfeeding services, including counseling, supplies, and support from trained providers. Again, there is no cost if you use an in-network provider.

Employers must also offer certain provisions for nursing mothers, including a reasonable break time and a private area -- though prevailing state laws may allow even greater protections to employees breastfeeding their babies.

5. Free well-woman visits

At least one free, full check-up -- a well-woman visit -- is included in ACA coverage. These preventive care visits can include immunizations, screenings, education, and counseling.

According to a 2010 Commonwealth Fund study, more than three-quarters of uninsured women in the U.S. didn't have routine annual exams, see a doctor when they were sick, or fill prescriptions because of high health care costs. With millions of Americans getting insured through the ACA, many more women will have access to free well-woman visits.

6. You can finally get coverage for pre-existing conditions

One of the fundamental changes that has come with the ACA is the stipulation that you cannot be denied coverage -- or charged a higher insurance premium -- just because you are sick or pregnant. Once you purchase insurance, coverage for pre-existing conditions begins immediately, even if you have been refused coverage or treatment in the past.

This can include coverage for long-term and serious health conditions, such as breast cancer, mental illness, heart disease, and asthma. Previously, some insurance companies would charge a higher premium if a pre-existing condition was evident in your family -- this practice is no longer allowed.

7. Medical services will expand to more low-income women

The ACA has expanded eligibility for Medicaid in some states. Now, coverage is available for single adults under 65 who make up to $16,104 or $32,913 for a family of four. However, some states have not expanded their Medicaid programs, so income restrictions may vary.

In addition, individuals and households below certain income thresholds can benefit from premium assistance -- or discounts -- on their monthly insurance premiums. The amount you can save on health insurance premiums on coverage purchased through the insurance marketplace depends on your household income and family size.

8. Birth control is free

All FDA-approved contraceptive methods (as prescribed by a health care provider) are included -- at no cost -- as a part of ACA health plans. This includes education, counseling, and birth control methods such as the pill, diaphragms, sponges, vaginal rings, intrauterine devices, emergency contraception, and sterilization procedures for women.

9. Women can't be charged more than men

Before health care reform, many insurance plans excluded maternity coverage or had long waiting periods and high deductibles. Women were often charged higher insurance premiums for the same coverage as men -- known as "gender rating" -- but that is no longer allowed. Women have the opportunity to benefit in a big way from the Affordable Care Act -- and should take advantage of their new benefits.

NerdWallet Health has created a first-of-its-kind customizable insurance guide that simply estimates monthly premiums and clearly explains what the uninsured in each of the 50 states need to know about the Affordable Care Act. The guide also connects users to four different resources to buy an insurance plan before the Obamacare deadline of March 31, 2014.

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