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The Affordable Care Act -- Women's History in the Making

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By Representative Jan Schakowsky and Professor Amy Fried

All month we have been commemorating Women's History Month. As March comes to a close there is no better way to recognize women's history than by celebrating the Affordable Care Act. That's because we are confident the law will go down in history as landmark legislation that improves and saves the lives of countless American women. Today is the fourth anniversary of the Affordable Care Act becoming law, which makes it a good time to focus on the many stories of women across our nation who can now lead healthier lives because of new protections and access to affordable health insurance under the law.

Jackie Berman, of Chicago, was crossing the street when she was hit by a car. She was an uninsured special education teacher. Her injuries were so severe and her recovery was so arduous that she had to quit her job. A settlement from the accident helped her pay for her surgeries, but she could not live on that forever.

Fortunately, this year with the help of a navigator from the Center for Economic Progress, Berman was able to enroll in an affordable health insurance plan she found through Get Covered Illinois, the state's Affordable Care health insurance marketplace.

Her new insurance coverage allowed her to keep going to her surgeon, primary care doctor and orthopedic specialist. Financial subsidies from the federal government also ensured that she could afford to see these doctors. Thanks to coverage through the Affordable Care Act, Berman is continuing on her road to recovery. Moreover, under the law's many consumer protections, her injuries are not a treated as a pre-existing condition that could keep her from getting coverage now or in the future.

One of us -- Professor Amy Fried -- has a story of our own. Fried had to undergo major abdominal surgery for what doctors were 95 percent certain was ovarian cancer. Thankfully, she hit the five percent chance and didn't need follow-up treatment.

Fried was fortunate in another way: She was insured. Without insurance, she would have faced more than $100,000 in medical bills. If cancer had been found, those costs would have been much higher.

Her cancer scare came to light after getting an annual physical. Yet, few uninsured people get a physical each year. Instead, because of costs, they wait to see a doctor until they feel sick. This can be deadly, such in the case of ovarian cancer.

The good news is not only does the Affordable Care Act mean that millions more women will have health insurance coverage, but that physicals, mammograms and other preventative services are free. Women like Fried, can take preventative measures needed to protect their health -- lengthening lives and saving us all money in the long run.

Berman, Fried and women all over the United States are better off because they can all secure health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. No more gender discrimination, higher rates, or limited benefits for our women. With affordable health care, women can have economic security and the peace of mind that they will not become a financial burden on their families.

Since the Affordable Care Act allows individuals to buy affordable health care coverage on their own, women no longer have to remain in a job just for the health insurance -- they can feel free to start their own business or care for a child or elderly parent. Women no longer have to stay in an abusive or unhealthy relationship because their spouse or partner is their ticket to health insurance.

With new protections in the law for those with private healthcare coverage, insurance companies can no longer discriminate against women by denying access to contraception or maternity care. With the health care law in place, prenatal care is accessible to woman without co-payment.

Women grappling with life-altering accidents or a potential cancer diagnosis; those previously uninsured or in need of changing insurance; young women needing to stay on their parents' plan or older women who want to retire can all have the care they need to lead healthy lives.

We all have women in our lives that now have the freedom to get the care they need because of the Affordable Care Act. Women who are uninsured should celebrate this month by enrolling in health care by the March 31 deadline.

Jan Schakowsky is the U.S. Representative for Illinois's ninth congressional district who helped write the Affordable Care Act.

Amy Fried is a Professor of Political Science at the University Maine and Co-Leader of the Maine Chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network.