Sebelius: federal healthcare law gives options to women

03/08/12 Janelle Irwin
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More than 17 million American women are uninsured, but the health care law signed by President Barack Obama could drastically reduce that number. Many provisions in the law make preventative care more accessible and affordable for women of all ages.

Tanya Showers said she’s been without basic health insurance for at least 4 years.

“It’s been very hard. I go to the hospital sometimes, to the emergency room just to get help."

“And what happens when you get that giant bill in the mail?”

“I still owe bills. I’m upset and I still – I don’t have the money to pay them.”

Showers is a 44-year-old Tampa resident, a mom and a grandma. She taking classes at Erwin Technical School to better her situation, but for now, health care is something she just can’t afford. According to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, women like her aren’t uncommon.

“It was not unusual because of the jobs that women have that women are more likely to be uninsured and more likely to be under insured; have some coverage, but not cover the benefits.”

Sebelius was in Tampa last month for a panel discussion. She said those women who are considered under insured often are no better off than women who have no insurance at all. According to a panel member, Dr. Catherine Lynch, who is an OB/GYN in Tampa, co-pays for preventative care are an expense many women chose to forego.

“Even that little $20 co-pay may, at times, be prohibitive for them coming in for their annual examination and annual assessment. The question of whether or not their mammography is going to be covered often will limit their ability to come in for care and delay treatment.”

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act changes that. The law requires insurance policies to include preventative care like screenings for breast and cervical cancer and other treatable conditions. Lynch said before the law women could find health care covering a pregnancy.

“But won’t cover for care before or after pregnancy. So, that a woman who perhaps was a gestational diabetic in pregnancy, who’s at increased risk of developing diabetes outside of pregnancy, can’t continue to get her care taken care of until she becomes pregnant again. At which point, if she hasn’t been controlling her diabetes and her hemoglobin A1c is significantly elevated or her sugars are significantly elevated at the critical time of the development of the baby, well now we’re going to be dealing with a baby that’s going to have congenital issues.”

Lynch encourages expectant mothers to nurse their babies after delivery. But she said many women turn to formula feeding because it can be purchased using WIC.

“That’s not really the best thing for baby. Yet, if that’s the only thing you can afford because it’s being covered by our government yet you’re working, you might like to breast feed which would certainly be the most healthy thing, but you can’t afford it. You can’t afford the pump rental; you can’t afford the storage equipment. There are costs with breast feeding. And yet what the Affordable Care Act provides is actually coverage for those costs so that women have a choice between either formula or breast feeding.”

The health care law also changes how insurance companies are allowed to treat patients with pre-existing conditions. They can’t deny coverage to children now and in 2014 they won’t be able to deny adults either. Secretary Sebelius said before Obama’s health care reform, being a woman WAS considered a pre-existing condition.

“It has been legal in every state in this country to charge women up to 50% more for their health coverage – exactly the same coverage that a man would have – because of different kinds of health conditions. And health care plans often did not cover services needed and wanted by women and that’s beginning to change. And in 2014 that will change entirely.”

Other benefits of the Affordable Care Act include tax incentives to small businesses who provide health coverage for employees and insurance exchanges that allow people to shop for the best and cheapest coverage. Supporters compare that program to travel websites that find the lowest rates on air fare or hotels. Despite those benefits, there is still widespread opposition to the law. Sebelius said it is important to inform the public to gain support.

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