In many families, women are the health care decision makers. When children go for their checkups, we are often the ones who make the appointment and sit in the room holding their hand. When elderly parents see a new specialist, we are the ones carrying the folder with all their health information. And we are also usually the ones who take care of the health insurance bills -- and have to find extra money in the family budget when the insurance company raises the premium yet again.
In the past, this also meant that many women would take care of their own health last. By the time they got around to it, women found a system stacked against them. But thanks to the health care law, that's changed. Two years ago this week, President Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act.
Here are a few ways the law is already helping women.
- Because of the new law, 45.1 million women -- including more than 20 million women with private health insurance and nearly 25 million women with Medicare -- can receive recommended preventive services with no cost-sharing. This includes services from Pap smears to flu shots to an annual well-woman visit, where you get to actually sit down and talk with your doctor. Over the years, too many women have gone without potentially life-saving cancer screenings like mammograms due to expensive co pays. That was bad for women, and it was bad for everyone since treating health problems caught early is much more effective and less expensive than treating those caught later. Now, women are getting the care they need to stay healthy.
- The law prohibits insurers from charging women more just because they're women starting in 2014. Women have sometimes been charged as much as 50 percent more for premiums, and according to a new report from the National Women's Law Center, the practice of charging women more for the same coverage costs women in the individual market approximately $1 billion a year. But, under the health care law, this will be illegal. In other words: Being a woman will no longer be considered a pre-existing condition!
- The law is ending discrimination against preexisting conditions. Insurers are already prohibited from denying coverage to children because they have a preexisting condition, like asthma or diabetes. And beginning in 2014, all women will be protected from being locked out of the market because of a "preexisting condition" such as being a breast cancer survivor, or having given birth by C-section, or being a victim of domestic violence.
That's good news for all women. In the past, too many women didn't have the freedom to make important decisions about things like changing jobs, starting a new company, even leaving a bad marriage, without worrying about their health coverage. Now, we're taking those choices back from the insurance companies and returning them to women, where they belong.
- The law is also making a difference for older women by putting Medicare on surer footing. Under the law today, if you're in the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap known as the donut hole, you will receive a 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs automatically when you fill your prescription -- and you don't have to do anything to get it. In 2010 and 2011 more than 5.1 million seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare have saved more than 3.1 billion on prescription drugs thanks to the new law. Going forward, the donut hole will get smaller each year, as the discounts continue and your Part D plan starts to cover more costs. And by 2020, the donut hole will be closed.
Over the last two years, women have begun to see the better health, better care, and lower costs that everyone deserves. And over the next two years, women will continue to see stronger benefits and protections for them and their families.
You can also learn about what the law means for everyday people by visiting Healthcare.gov/mycare - where we're featuring videos from Americans across the country who have been helped by the law.
Follow Kathleen Sebelius on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Sebelius