By Kathleen Sebelius
The Miami Herald
March 19, 2012
This Tuesday, I am meeting with women at the Jessie Trice Center for Community Health in Miami to mark the two-year anniversary of the Affordable Care Act. Since the healthcare law took effect, people across the country have started to see its benefits in their own lives. And that’s especially true for women and their families.
Here are a few ways the law is already helping women.
- First, the law makes sure that women in new healthcare plans can get preventive care at no additional cost — from Pap smears to flu shots to an annual well-woman visit where you get to actually sit down and talk with your doctor. Over the years, too many women have gone without potentially life-saving cancer screenings like mammograms due to expensive co-pays. That was bad for women, and it was bad for everyone since treating health problems caught early is much more effective and less expensive than treating those caught later. Now, women are getting the care they need to stay healthy.
- Second, the law prohibits insurers from charging women more just because they’re women. Women have sometimes been charged as much as 50 percent more for premiums, but under the healthcare law, this will be illegal. In other words: Being a woman will no longer be considered a pre-existing condition!
- Third, the law is ending discrimination against pre-existing conditions. Insurers are already prohibited from denying coverage to children because they have a pre-existing condition, like asthma or diabetes. That has made an enormous difference for Dawn, a self-employed Florida resident whose young son, Wesley, had an eye condition. In the past, the insurance she purchased for her family always excluded the very benefits her son needed to take care of his pre-existing condition. But that changed after the healthcare law passed: Now the care her son needs is covered under a new policy with no benefit exclusions.
And beginning in 2014, all women will be protected from being locked out of the market because of a “pre-existing condition” such as being a breast cancer survivor, or having given birth by C-section, or being a victim of domestic violence.
That’s good news for all women. In the past, too many women didn’t have the freedom to make important decisions about things like changing jobs, starting a new company, even leaving a bad marriage, without worrying about their health coverage. Now, we’re taking those choices back from the insurance companies and returning them to women, where they belong.
- Fourth, the law is also making a difference for older women by putting Medicare on surer footing. Every day tens of millions of seniors count on Medicare’s benefits and the majority of them are women. That means no one has a bigger interest in strengthening Medicare than we do. And that’s exactly what the law does.
Under the law today, if you’re in the Medicare prescription drug coverage gap known as the “doughnut hole,” you will receive a 50-percent discount on brand-name drugs automatically when you fill your prescription — and you don’t have to do anything to get it. In 2010 and 2011 over 5.1 million seniors and people with disabilities on Medicare have saved over $3.1 billion on prescription drugs thanks to the new law. Going forward, the doughnut hole will get smaller each year, as the discounts continue and your Part D plan starts to cover more costs. And by 2020, the donut hole will be closed.
We have also strengthened the penalties for criminals who steal from Medicare and put more law enforcement on the ground to find them. Combined, these efforts have returned a record $10.7 billion to taxpayers over the last three years, sending a clear message that defrauding and stealing from taxpayers will not be tolerated.
Millions of women have already seen these benefits in their own lives. In many families, women are the healthcare decision makers. When children go for their checkups, we are often the ones who make the appointment and sit in the room holding their hand. When elderly parents see a new specialist, we are the ones carrying the folder with all their health information. And we are also usually the ones who take care of the health insurance bills — and have to find extra money in the family budget when the insurance company raises the premium yet again.
In the past, this also meant that many women would take care of their own health last. By the time they got around to it, women found a system stacked against them. But thanks to the healthcare law, that’s changed. Over the past two years, women have begun to see the better health, better care, and lower costs that every American deserves.
Kathleen Sebelius is the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.