Health reform: truly a BFD for women
When Vice President Joe Biden told President Barack Obama that health reform is a BFD, he wasn’t kidding. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) represents a major victory for women across the nation. Today, state law decides what insurers have to cover. Under reform, federal law will call for equal benefits in all states.
Begin with maternity benefits. In the 41 states where they are not mandated, a 30-year-old woman will find that only 6 percent of plans in the individual market now offer coverage. Guess how expensive those plans are. Under the ACA, maternity care will be considered an “essential benefit” that all insurers selling policies to individuals and small businesses must cover, without charging extra, beginning in 2014.
Some argue that women who want maternity benefits should pay more. “I don’t need maternity care,” Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) groused when the Senate Finance Committee debated “essential benefits.” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) didn’t miss a beat: “I think your mom probably did.”
Enough said. One way or another, all of us benefit from prenatal care.
But maternity benefits represent just one way that reform addresses women’s health. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) also calls for:
Preventive services with no co-pays or deductibles: New Policies (issued or renewed on or after September 23, 2010) are required to cover services that many women need – mammograms, Pap smears, at least one well-woman care visit a year, contraceptive products and counseling, and screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence. In 2018, these requirements will apply to all plans.
Essential benefits: In 2014, both all plans sold inside the new state-run health insurance exchanges and all new plans sold outside of the exchanges will be required to cover a specific set of essential health benefits. For women, these include maternity and newborn care; mental health services (including counseling for post-partum depression); preventative and wellness services; contraception; chronic disease management; and pediatric services for her children, including dental and vision care.
At the same time, the legislation bans:
Gender rating: In 2014, charging women more because they don’t have a Y chromosome will be outlawed both in individual and small employer markets. After 2017, if a state lets large employers into its exchange (and many will), the rule will apply to all large-employer coverage in the state.
Charging more for pre-existing conditions: Starting in 2014, insurers can not charge higher premiums, or deny coverage due to a person’s pre-existing conditions.
The bottom line: Under the Affordable Care Act, women’s bodies will no longer be viewed as exotic, but costly, deviations from the norm that just don’t fit into a health care system designed by, and for, men.