Monday, April 9, 2012

How ACA benefits women now, as highlighted by Obama Administration

A recent release from the White House may partially explain the President's current popularity with women in recent polls, at least compared to the Republican presidential candidates. According to Keeping America's Women Moving Forward, from The White House Council on Women and Girls, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has already provided numerous benefits to America's women, especially those on the lower end of the economic scale, and more advantages are yet to come, presuming that the Supreme Court doesn't effectively dispose of the entire law.

The various benefits listed in the report include some that many of us may not have given much thought to recently, including the following:

* One million one hundred thousand women between the ages of 19 and 25 who would have been uninsured currently receive health coverage under a parent’s health insurance plan or through an individually purchased health insurance plan;

* 24.7 million women enrolled in Medicare received preventive services at no additional cost in 2011, including an annual wellness visit, a personalized prevention plan, mammograms, and bone mass measurement for women at risk of osteoporosis;

* More than 2 million women enrolled in Medicare who hit the donut hole saved $1.2 billion in 2011 due to improvements in prescription drug coverage; and

* An estimated 20.4 million women are benefiting from expanded access to preventive services such as mammograms, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and prenatal care at no additional cost.

The report's authors point out that increasing numbers of women today are the main breadwinners for their families, yet women still earn substantially less, on average, than do their male counterparts (77 cents for women to every dollar for men). The report's authors explain that, on top of these existing pay disparities, women face higher healthcare costs than men, and spend an estimated $1 billion more than men for equivalent health coverage (citing "Turning to Fairness: Insurance Discrimination Against Women Today and the Affordable Care Act," National Women’s Law Center, March 2012).

Costs of gender rating. The report points to the fact that only 14 states have limited or specifically banned gender rating – the practice of charging women more than men – in the individual market as the primary reason for this, explaining that 92% of the best-selling plans, excluding plans in those 14 states, charge women higher premiums than men for the same coverage. In 31 states, all of the best-selling plans engage in gender rating. Under the ACA, beginning in 2014, women can no longer be charged more for health insurance simply because of their gender.

The report also emphasizes that women are also far more likely to experience domestic violence, which can threaten their financial security, as well as their health and safety. The ACA includes standard preventative care measures that will include screening for domestic violence at no additional cost, and the Department of Health and Human Services is working to train health and human service providers to integrate domestic violence screenings into their work (citing "Affordable Care Act Ensures Women Receive Preventive Services at No Additional Cost," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 1, 2011).

Medicare more important to women. The report claims that the coverage Medicare provides is particularly critical for women, who, with their lower average incomes and greater life expectancies, rely on Medicare longer than men. Over half of America’s more than 48 million Medicare beneficiaries are women – and 70% of beneficiaries over the age of 85 are women. Women in Medicare also spend more of their income on health care, claim the report's authors, partially because of costs related to preventive services such as mammograms, clinical breast exams, bone density tests, and visits for Pap tests and pelvic exams. Therefore, what's good for Medicare is apparently good for women. The ACA significantly extended the life of the Medicare trust fund and the President’s most recent budget is projected in the report to extend it another two years.

The report also claims that women on Medicare tend to have greater health needs than men, estimating that a higher percentage of women have more than three chronic conditions, and women on Medicare are more likely to suffer from osteoporosis, arthritis, and hypertension. Many key preventive services were made available with no co-pay or deductible by the ACA, and, already, more than 32.5 million seniors, including 19 million women, have already received one or more free preventive services, including the new Annual Wellness Visit, a one-time health review, and education and counseling about preventive services and other care.

New mothers, regardless of their place on the economic ladder, have also benefited from the ACA's reforms. In 2011, the HHS, awarded $224 million via the ACA to states to help families voluntarily receive home visits from nurses and social workers to improve maternal and child health and child development ("HHS Announces $224 Million to Support Evidence-Based Home Visiting Programs to Help Parents and Children," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September 22, 2011) Also, the ACA requires most workplaces to provide reasonable break times and private space at work to express breast milk up until a child’s first birthday.
For a comprehensive analysis of the ACA, and additional information on health reform and other developments in employee benefits, just click here.


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