March Momentous for Texas Women's Health Care
by NAOMI ABERLY
Mar 23, 2012 | 1128 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
This month marks the second anniversary of the Affordable Care Act, or the health reform law, and the U.S. Supreme Court's arguments on challenges to parts of the law.  Those who care about women's health have had much to focus on with the recent disputes in Texas and Washington over women's access to birth control.  Amidst this turmoil, we would be wise to  remember what the health reform law has already meant  to Texas women, and the great things still to come in 2014 if the law stays on course.

Health care is a family issue for women, and one that spans our lifetimes.  Women need access to good, affordable health care so we can be good workers and mothers.  But even more, we need to know that our children and grandchildren are healthy and happy.  And, we want to know that our parents and loved ones won't struggle to afford basic care-or suffer without that care-as they age or when illness or injury strikes.

The health reform law has already provided new benefits for children, women, and seniors, aimed at reducing some of the worst barriers to health care today.  Since September 2010, new health plans must cover major preventive care such as  Pap smears, HPV vaccine, and mammograms, with no co-payment.  Kids covered under those new plans also get new baby care, well-child visits, and immunizations without a co-pay.  Over 1.4 million Texas women received this new benefit in 2011 alone, plus 1 million more Texas children.  Another 1.3 million Texas women in Medicare last year also used that program's new preventive benefit for tests and an annual check-up, without out-of-pocket spending.

Texas moms are seeing other new protections for our children.  Job-based health plans and new individual plans can no longer deny coverage for a baby or any child under age 19 with a health condition, even babies born with health problems.  And our older kids-out of high school or college in a tough job market-can stay on our plans now until they hit age 26.  More than 300,000 young Texas adults got covered this way in 2011 as a result of health reform law.

New consumer protections now require health insurers to report and justify premium rate increases over 10 percent.  This summer, Texans who pay for job-based health plans or who buy direct from an insurer will get rebate checks from their carriers if their health plan did not pay out at least 80 cents of every premium dollar collected in 2011 on health care services, as opposed to profits, advertising, or administration.

But women still face some real obstacles in today's Texas insurance market.  Working women are less likely to get health benefits through their jobs than men, and if they try to buy a health plan direct from an insurer, they can be turned down completely or priced out of the market based on their health.  That includes getting turned down because of pregnancy.  Young women today can be charged more than a man of the same age just because they could be pregnant some day.  Small wonder that today's marketplace leaves 30 percent of Texas women between 19 and 64 uninsured.

But thanks to the health reform law, big changes for markets and consumers are set for January 2014.  Job-based health plans and new individual plans won't be allowed to deny anyone insurance-male or female-or charge more because of a pre-existing condition, including pregnancy or a disability.  This means more moms will get prenatal care to give their kids a healthier start in life.  Insurers will not be able to charge women higher premiums than they charge men.  Women who make too much for Medicaid but not quite enough to afford coverage today will have sliding-scale help to buy private insurance in the new "Exchange" competitive marketplace.  And every health plan sold will have to cover comprehensive benefits.

The Affordable Care Act will bring changes that will be life-changing and life-saving for Texas women.  The health reform law offers the best chance in over 50 years for real progress toward every American mother, sister, and daughter having an equal shot at heath care security for her whole family, cradle to grave.  This month, I am celebrating this great leap forward, and hoping for a Supreme Court decision in June that will preserve these gains for every Texan.

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Aberly is  the former and life member of the Planned Parenthood of North Texas board of directors, recent board member of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, and most importantly, a mother, a sister and a daughter.

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© Copyright Texas Lone Star Forum. 3/12
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