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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

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Friday, January 20, 2012

The Affordable Care Act: Helping Women Prevent Cervical Cancer

January is National Cervical Cancer Health Awareness month. One goal this month is to bring awareness to the preventative role that routine Pap tests play. The American Cancer Society states that Pap tests can actually prevent the disease and that early detection allows for more successful treatment, making it a matter of life and death for some women. Unfortunately, this does not bring peace of mind to the millions of uninsured women who lack access to primary care doctors and OB-GYNs. 

Almost 1 in 5, or 19 million women in America reported being uninsured in 2010; more than 17 million, almost 1 in 6, fell victim to poverty. These women are your neighbors, your co-workers, your loved ones and your community members, and they are at a heightened risk of developing serious illnesses like cervical cancer simply because they cannot afford basic and necessary preventive health care. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose legacy we recently celebrated, once said, “Of all the forms of injustice, inequality in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” This is an injustice that the Affordable Care Act—commonly referred to as “Obamacare”—is working diligently to fix.

In 2014, the Affordable Care Act will expand the Medicaid program to cover all Americans living at or below 133% of the federal poverty level ($14,483.70 a year for a single person). This expansion will bring comprehensive health care, including primary care providers, to an estimated 16 million people nationwideHere in Illinois, 700,000 people, including many low-income women will gain access to basic and effective preventive health services like routine Pap tests.

The Affordable Care Act recognizes that the cost of insurance policies and medical bills are not just problems for those living in poverty; they are also significant sources of stress for middle-class families. Fortunately, in 2014, the health reform law will provide tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies for individuals and families living below 400 percent of the federal poverty level ($89,400 for a family of four) to offset the cost of obtaining health coverage and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This kind of financial relief is estimated to make a huge impact on women’s access to health care and greatly decrease the number of women who are uninsured or “underinsured” (women who have health insurance but don’t get medical care because they cannot afford their policies’ big deductibles or co-payments or because the services they need are not covered by their policies).

A 2009 study reported that seven out of ten women are uninsured or underinsured, have trouble paying for medical bills, or avoid seeking health care because of the cost. With record breaking numbers of women living in poverty and the fact that women have historically been charged higher premiums than men simply for being women—a discriminatory practice that health reform has banned—this should come as no surprise. Women need access to basic preventive health care now in order to prevent life-threatening diseases like cervical cancer in the future. That’s why, right now, the Affordable Care Act is helping insured women gain access to affordable health care by mandating that insurance companies provide preventive services free of cost-sharing to anybody with a new or “non-grandfathered” plan. Furthermore, in August of this year, a significant number of women’s preventive health services, including annual well-woman visits and Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives, will be free of co-payment for women who have insurance policies that are considered to be “non-grandfathered” status. 

Finally, health reform is effectively eliminating barriers between women and OB-GYNs by banning the old, status-quo requirement that women must get a referral from a primary care physician before seeing a gynecologist. This consumer protection has been in effect since the fall of 2010 so women all over the United States are already finding it easier and more affordable to get the necessary preventive care they need as a result of health reform.

On behalf of women everywhere, thank you, Affordable Care Act, for increasing access to affordable health care and for helping women stay ahead of cervical cancer.

For information on what the government is already doing to help women prevent cervical cancer, check out the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Detection Program online. This program provides access to free breast and cervical cancer screening and treatment for millions of uninsured women.

Also, see the American Cancer Society for in-depth information on what cervical cancer is, the risks and treatment options, as well as support.  

This blog post was coauthored by Rachel Gielau, and was originally posted at The Shriver Brief. It is part of a weekly “Did You Know” blog series that highlights important, but not well known features of the health reform law about prevention, wellness, and personal responsibility for our health. 

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