This year, women have been at the forefront of efforts to stop Congress from repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – the greatest advance for women’s health in a generation. Women came to town hall meetings and legislators’ offices around the country to make clear that cutting Medicaid, defunding Planned Parenthood and undermining key protections in the ACA is unacceptable. As the primary health care decision-makers for our families, we have a lot of stake in this debate.
As the Senate returns from August recess and begins bipartisan hearings on the ACA this week, women are still watching. We comprise the majority of enrollees in the ACA’s health insurance marketplace, which means that we are counting on a functional and effective insurance market where we can purchase affordable coverage that meets our health care needs and those of our families.
That these hearings are even taking place is a promising signal that some members of Congress are ready to work together to stabilize the marketplaces and ensure even more people can access quality, affordable health care.
Here are four things we’ll be watching for during this week’s hearings, and as Congress works to stabilize the ACA in upcoming weeks and months:
1. Affordable Premiums
When health insurance premiums are unaffordable, women have to choose between getting the coverage they need and paying other essential bills. This undermines our economic security and our health. Congress should fully fund premium stabilization programs, which prevent an individual’s premiums from rising too quickly when her or his health claims go up.
2. Permanent Cost Sharing Reduction Payments
Research consistently shows that women delay or avoid care when costs are too high. The ACA helped address this by providing financial assistance to cover health care costs at the point of care (such as co-pays and deductibles) to low-income women and families. Given the Trump administration’s threat to end the cost sharing reduction payments, Congress must enact legislation that clarifies there is permanent funding to help low-income women and families access the care they need.
3. Targeted Outreach and Enrollment Efforts
Women need to know when, how and where to sign up for coverage on the health insurance marketplace. Last week’s announcement, that the Trump administration will gut funding for the ads that drive women and families to the marketplace and the navigators who help them find affordable options when they get there, is deeply disturbing. Congress should require action and provide additional funding for outreach, marketing and in-person enrollment assistance, specifying women as a primary target audience for the outreach, given our role as health care decision-makers for ourselves and our families. Enrolling more young, healthy women would also help expand the insurance risk pool.
4. Protections for Key Benefits
Thanks to the ACA, many women now rely on birth control, cancer screenings, and other preventive services without any cost sharing. Women also need access to high-quality maternity care, mental health services, doctors’ visits and more. Ultimately, women need to know that we have guaranteed coverage for the essential health benefits protected by the ACA. Congress should maintain the scope of covered benefits and resist any attempt to shrink benefits in the name of reducing costs. Insurers and states must never again be allowed to pick and choose which women’s health services to cover.
We are hopeful that bipartisan efforts to strengthen the ACA will be successful. Women need to know that Congress is done playing politics with their health care and is instead, finally, working to protect our health, well-being and economic security.