Commentary: Obamacare Makes a Difference for Breast Cancer

African-American women have a lot to gain from the Affordable Care Act.

Posted: 09/30/2013 02:58 PM EDT

Breast cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S. And African-American women have the highest rate of breast cancer among women under the age of 40. 

When caught early, the chances of survival are great. But catching it is key.That’s why, as we recognize National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, we also celebrate the Affordable Care Act. Because of Obamacare, millions more women including nearly 2 million African-American women will have access to preventive health care like breast cancer screenings. 

But to access these lifesaving services, women have to enroll to get coverage, and it can be confusing. That’s why Planned Parenthood launched a new website, plannedparenthoodhealthinsurancefacts.org, with practical information that women need to know about the new law including who is eligible, what the benefits are, how to enroll, and what to find out from insurance companies.

The enrollment period for new health insurance under Obamacare starts on Oct. 1 and continues through March 31, 2014. Most people making less than $45,960 per year will be able to get help paying for a plan.

Whether they’re getting insurance for the first time or already have insurance, everyone’s benefits will expand because Obamacare requires insurance plans to cover more services for free (without a co-pay). New insurance plans will include expanded coverage right away; some people who currently have insurance are already getting expanded benefits, while others will kick in over the next few months.

Under the new law, insurance plans will cover doctor visits, hospitalizations, birth control, maternity care, prescription medications, ER care and more. Every plan will cover all kinds of birth control (pill, implants, IUDs), but the specific brands available without a co-pay vary by insurance plan. Testing for HIV or other STIs will be available for free.

Annual well-woman exams will be provided for free, too. These regular checkups include breast exams that can help detect breast cancer. We know that these checkups save lives. We see it every day at Planned Parenthood’s nearly 750 health centers nationwide, where we provide 640,000 clinical breast exams a year.

African-American women are less likely to be insured than white women. And women with private health insurance are twice as likely to get screened for breast cancer, while uninsured women are more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a later stage of breast cancer as privately insured women.

The truth is African-American women have a lot to gain from the Affordable Care Act, especially when it comes to our breast health care. African-American women face greater obstacles to obtaining and benefiting from affordable, high-quality health care. The Affordable Care Act can help change that. It’s up to all of us to make sure that the women in our lives have the information and tools to make the promise of Obamacare a reality.

Dr. Vanessa Cullins is vice president for external medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. 

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(Photo: Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

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