04/02/2012 11:35 am ET Updated Jun 02, 2012

Facing Tough Financial Choices, Health Insurance Is Often Sacrificed

Ingrid, a 47-year-old resident of Southwest Seattle, earns about $24,000 a year as a self-employed landscaper. When Ingrid first signed up for Basic Health, a Washington state-sponsored program providing low-cost health care coverage through private health plans, she had no problem affording the monthly $10 premiums. When her Basic Health premiums rose from $10 to approximately $20 to $25 a month, she managed. But when the premiums increased to $80 a month while she was in between jobs, Ingrid could no longer afford coverage.

"It was a choice between food and health insurance, and food won," she said.

Ingrid's story is one of hundreds that will be invoked as the Supreme Court hears arguments this week to determine whether the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate should stand. Hers is a common story of a woman struggling to survive on a tight fixed income who makes trade-offs every day between basic human necessities like shelter, food, transportation and her own health.

The Affordable Care Act would fundamentally change the outlook for Ingrid and thousands of low-income women, including significant numbers of women of color, across the country who bear the brunt of our current health-care crisis. Women of color account for 32 percent of the U.S. population, but comprise 51 percent of the uninsured. The rate of uninsurance in these communities unsurprisingly results in abysmal health outcomes, including some of the highest rates of maternal mortality, cervical cancer and diabetes.

The benefits of ACA to all women -- including the elimination of co-pays for annual well-women exams, breast and cervical cancer screenings and birth control- have been covered widely in the press. But women like Ingrid will also have affordable health care options through the Medicaid expansion or the Exchange and easier access to ob-gyn providers. Not to mention that women will no longer be denied coverage for so-called "pre-existing conditions" like pregnancy!

The Ms. Foundation is joining Ingrid and women across the country to celebrate the two-year anniversary of the ACA and gird for the Supreme Court arguments. Through partnerships with grantees in five states -- Colorado, New York, Oregon, Washington and West Virginia -- we are supporting the implementation of health care reform to improve women's access to affordable insurance and quality health care -- including reproductive health. A Supreme Court ruling against the individual mandate could invalidate all of ACA, jeopardizing the health of millions of women, particularly those who are low-income and of color.

It's time opponents of health care reform realize how inextricably linked women's health is to the health of our families and our communities. Women are the backbone of our workforce, the heads of our households and the mothers of our children. Healthy women beget a healthy nation.

That's why it's so essential that we work to eliminate the many barriers to health care that women face, barriers perpetuated by a broken health insurance system that the Affordable Care Act is already beginning to mend.

Because a choice between food and health insurance isn't really a choice at all.