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Thursday, September 23, 2010

The New Law Eliminates Barriers to the Care Women Need

Reproductive care is basic health care for women—we need it on a regular basis to keep ourselves healthy.  During the reproductive years, even a woman without any health problems may visit an obstetric or gynecologic (OB-GYN) care provider more than 50 times! In fact, many women get their primary care from an ob-gyn provider.  In addition to typical reproductive care (e.g., pelvic exam, counseling about family planning or menopause, pap smear) a visit with an OB-GYN provider might include a comprehensive medical history, a physical exam, and screenings for high blood pressure and cholesterol.

That’s why it’s essential that women have access to ob-gyn care without having to go through a burdensome referral process. Thanks to the new health care law (known as the Affordable Care Act, or ACA) many more women have guaranteed “direct access” to OB-GYN care. Beginning on September 23rd, insurance companies and health plans are prohibited from requiring a referral when women seek this type of care.

Several other important pieces of the ACA come into effect on September 23rd, with benefits that are just as important to women.  For instance, health plans are no longer allowed to place a lifetime limit on health benefits, so a women experiencing serious illness or injury will no longer face the prospect of going bankrupt when her insurance runs out. Health plans are also required to cover certain preventive services—such as cancer screenings, flu shots, and smoking cessation treatment—for free.  This is especially important for women, who are more likely than men to report delaying preventive care because of cost. Besides the fact that they all begin on September 23rd, these provisions share a common purpose: ensuring that women have access to the health care they need, when they need it, without worrying about whether they can afford it. 

There are a lot of reasons to celebrate September 23rd, and to keep celebrating as more and more of the ACA provisions kick in over the next few years—including coverage requirements for maternity care and other essential benefits, tax credits to make health insurance more affordable, and bans on denying women coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Happy 6-month anniversary to the Affordable Care Act—it’s already working for women, and we’re even more excited about what it has in store! 


This post was written by Brigette Courtot, a Senior Health Policy Analyst, National Women’s Law Center.