When it comes to health care coverage, many activists say, women have been getting the shaft. They not only have to pay for additional gender-specific services, like birth control, they can't even count on their insurers to provide access to them. Some of that stops on Aug. 1, when a series of provisions in the Affordable Care Act that specifically target women kick in.
Starting then, insurers will have to provide coverage at no cost to eight additional preventive services, including annual well-woman visits; contraception methods and counseling; and screening and counseling for domestic violence. A provision that enabled women to get pre-natal care, Pap smears and mammograms without having to make a co-payment or pay a deductible was already in effect.
The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that approximately 47 million women will benefit from the expanded coverage. The bad news is the same number could lose access to these potentially life-saving services if Obamacare, as everybody's now calling it, is repealed.
"No-cost coverage for these services is vitally needed as more than half of women have reported delaying seeking health care because of its cost and about a third of women have sacrificed basic needs like food and rent in order to pay for health care expenses," said Tara McGuinness, a senior vice president for communications at the Center for American Progress. "Mitt Romney wants to take those services away."
At a forum on women's health and economic wellness hosted by the center, McGuinness and others also noted that women are victims of gender discrimination in the health insurance marketplace, which the health reform law prohibits starting in 2014. Until then, according to an issue brief prepared by the think tank, a 22-year-old woman may be charged "one-and-a-half times more for her insurance coverage than a man her age for a plan that often does not cover all of her reproductive health needs and other gender-specific conditions."
If women don't want to be treated like they're a "pre-existing condition," the panel argued, they've got to fight to ensure that the Affordable Care Act isn't repealed as Republicans have vowed to do if President Obama is defeated in November. A new Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll shows that he leads Romney on health care issues by 11 points.
"We don't vote our numbers, we don't vote our strength and we don't vote our power," said Democratic strategist Karen Finney. "What I hope is that we will be game changers. Women really can be the deciders in this election if we choose to."
She added that because women could be such a force in November, it's important to ensure that they help keep each other informed about issues like the new health provisions and new voting laws that could prevent women of color, for example, from casting ballots and do so in a way that resonates with their lives and interests so they know what's at stake.
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(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)