Ed. Note: This blog is cross posted from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Today, we join our White House colleagues in celebrating National Breast Cancer Awareness month; and almost four weeks into the launch of the Health Insurance Marketplace, I’m reminded of the tremendous impact the Affordable Care Act has on the lives of American women.
As the President said, the law is much more than just a website - it’s affordable, quality health insurance made available to everyone. Through the Marketplace, 18.6 million uninsured women have new opportunities for affordable, accessible coverage. And if you’re one of the 85 percent of Americans who already have insurance, today you have stronger coverage and more choices than ever before.
Important preventive services are now available to women at no additional cost. These include an annual well woman visit, screening for breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer; certain contraceptive methods; smoking-cessation treatment and services; breastfeeding support and equipment; screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence; immunizations; and many more. Thanks to the health care law, more than 47 million women have guaranteed access to preventive services without cost-sharing.
These preventive services are critical to keeping women healthy. For example, breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women and the second leading cause of cancer death for women in the US, after lung cancer. But when breast cancer is caught early and treated, survival rates can be near 100 percent.
The Affordable Care Act also protects women’s access to quality health care. No one can be denied health insurance coverage because of a preexisting health condition, such as breast cancer, pregnancy, depression or being a victim of domestic violence. And there are no more annual and lifetime dollar limits on coverage.
Today, health plans in the Marketplace offer a comprehensive package of ten essential health benefits, including maternity care. An estimated 8.7 million American women currently purchasing individual insurance will gain coverage for maternity services, and most women will no longer need a referral from a primary care provider to obtain obstetrical or gynecological services.
Cost has also been a significant barrier to care for many women. According to one study, in 2010, one third of women spent 10 percent or more of their income on premiums and out of pocket costs. For low income women, that situation is much worse – over half of women who make $11,490 per year or less spend at least $1,149 a year on care. But through the Marketplace 6 out of 10 uninsured individuals can get coverage for $100 or less.
This year, as in every year, women will make important decisions for themselves and their families about health care. They can apply for coverage through the Marketplace: Online at Health care.gov; Over the phone by calling the 24/7 customer service center (1-800-318-2596, TTY 1-855-889-4325); Working with a trained person in their local community (Find Local Help); or by submitting a paper application my mail.
The six-month enrollment period has just begun. And unlike a sale on Black Friday, coverage will not run out; it will not get more expensive. Sign up by December 15, 2013 for coverage starting as early as January 1, 2014. Open enrollment continues until March 31, 2014.
Kathleen Sebelius is the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.