Six years after President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law, there is a lot to celebrate. The ACA is helping to fundamentally change how health care is accessed, delivered and paid for in our nation. It is supporting collaborative, multi-sector efforts to ensure that care is high quality, high value and patient- and family-centered. And for women’s health in particular, the ACA is the greatest advance in a generation. Today we’re wishing the ACA “happy birthday” with a summary of six ways it is improving the health and economic security of women in the United States.
- Millions of women and people of color have gained health insurance coverage for the first time. Under the ACA, 8.2 million women gained coverage. The decrease in the uninsured rate has been especially pronounced for African Americans (10.3 percentage points) and Hispanics (11.5 percentage points). Health care coverage means that fewer women and families have to live in fear that an unexpected illness or accident will undermine their economic security or lead to bankruptcy. In addition, under the ACA, women can no longer be denied coverage because they had breast cancer or C-sections, received care due to domestic violence, or have chronic conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.
- Health care coverage is more affordable for millions of women. Pre-ACA, the cost of health insurance placed a particular burden on lower-income women who needed health care services but struggled to pay premiums and out-of-pocket costs. The ACA changed this by expanding access to Medicaid, reining in premium increases, making preventive services more affordable and making health coverage more reliable. Subsidies and tax credits available through the ACA meant that, for the 2016 enrollment period, nearly 7 in 10 people buying coverage through HealthCare.gov could get plans with premiums of $75 per month or less.
- Women have additional protections under the ACA. Women no longer have to pay more than men for the same insurance policies. The ACA prohibits plans in the individual and small group markets from charging women higher premiums simply because of their gender. Additionally, under Section 1557 of the ACA, for the first time in history gender discrimination is prohibited in many health care programs. (The ACA prohibits all health programs and activities receiving federal funds, including tax credits, subsidies and contracts, from discriminating against women and other protected classes.)
- Roughly 55 million women are benefiting from potentially life-saving preventive services – like Pap tests and mammograms – with no copays. Beyond the peace of mind that comes from knowing one’s family can financially survive a catastrophic health event, women need to know they can get routine health care that helps them get and stay healthy throughout their lives. By covering a wide array of preventive services for women without cost-sharing, the ACA helps do just that.
- Medicaid expansion offers millions more low-income women access to essential care throughout their lives, from family planning and maternal health services to nursing home care. As of December 2015, 14.5 million additional individuals were enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP, compared to before October 2013. To date, 31 states plus D.C. have expanded (or are in the process of expanding) Medicaid under the ACA. Medicaid expansion has myriad benefits for women and their families, from getting more women access to early, lifesaving cancer screenings, to increasing children’s coverage rates, to improving enrollees’ financial stability.
- Women are guaranteed coverage for maternity care services. Prior to the ACA, few health plans purchased in the individual market covered maternity care, so women with individual plans either had to pay out-of-pocket for their care or purchase costly maternity coverage “riders.” Now, women who buy insurance in the marketplace are guaranteed access to maternity coverage. The ACA expanded services and coverage for new mothers, including breastfeeding supplies and support. The ACA also requires employers to offer certain employees a private space that is not a bathroom in which to pump breast milk, giving nursing mothers the right to a reasonable break time and a place to pump at work.
The benefits of the ACA to women – and their families – are many, and the law is making a real difference in the lives of millions. But there is still work to do. The states that have not yet expanded Medicaid should do so, so that more low-income people can obtain health care coverage.
Additionally, abortion care remains the only health service singled out by the ACA for less favorable treatment, despite the fact that it is one of the most common medical procedures for women. That needs to change.
The National Partnership looks forward to continuing its work to support these improvements and ensure that the ACA is implemented in ways that benefit all women and families. We’re confident we’ll have even more to celebrate when the ACA turns seven in 2017.
For more information on how the ACA benefits women, check out our comprehensive series of fact sheets at www.NationalPartnership.org/enroll.