This week is National Women's Health Week, a time to talk about and promote women's health. This year, we can truly be thankful for a health system that provides better, more affordable care to all Americans -- especially the women that spend so much of their time caring for the health and well being of others.
Women often serve as caregivers for their families, putting the needs of their spouses, children, and parents before their own. We encourage our family to eat their vegetables and get enough exercise. And as our parents get older, we make sure they fill their prescriptions.
Young, old, with private insurance, or with Medicare, the health care law signed into law last year, the Affordable Care Act, does more to advance women's health than we've seen in decades. It gives women more control over their health care and more security through all stages of their life.
Mothers can breathe a sigh of relief because children can no longer be denied health coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The law also requires new health plans to cover recommended preventive services, including vaccinations, and regular well-baby and well-child visits without cost-sharing or a deductible. And young women under the age of 26 who don't get insurance from their jobs now have the option of staying on their parent's family plan - giving young women more flexibility after graduating.
Many women are now guaranteed the ability to choose their doctors and visit their OB-GYNs without a referral. And, women are also no longer going to have to put off important screenings because recommended preventive services like mammograms, flu shots, and breast cancer screenings are available at no out-of-pocket cost in many plans.
As the majority of Medicare beneficiaries, women have a vested interest in the strength and longevity of the Medicare program. The Affordable Care Act strengthens Medicare by ensuring people on Medicare have access to preventive care through cost-free preventive screenings and by closing the coverage gap known as the "donut hole." In fact, nearly 4 million people with Medicare received cost relief during the law's first year. And today, seniors in the donut hole are offered a 50% discount on covered brand named drugs.
What's more, starting in 2014 when the law is fully implemented, it makes it illegal to charge women extra for health insurance in most cases. In other words, being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition. Also coming in 2014 is the requirement that insurance plans cover essential health benefits including newborn care and maternity care, and a new tax credit that will make health insurance affordable for all families.
With the health care law, we're putting women back in control of their health care and wellness and we are beginning to see a better future emerge. We're working with doctors and hospitals to keep patients healthier and improve the quality and safety of care. Across the country, there are children who no longer have to choose between having health benefits and their dream job, moms who don't have to worry about their children being rejected from health insurance coverage due to pre-existing conditions, and grandmothers who won't have to skip prescriptions in order to pay their rent.
This National Women's Health Week, we're reminded that it is our shared responsibility to help the important women in our lives get the care they need to stay healthy.
Follow Sec. Kathleen Sebelius on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Sebelius