Today’s historic Supreme Court ruling upholding the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, is a tremendous victory for millions of Americans—especially women. By upholding the health reform law, the Supreme Court will allow significant reforms to our health insurance system to be fully implemented, keeping health care costs down and protecting Americans from the health insurance industry’s worst abuses.
Here are the top five ways Obamacare helps women in particular:
1. Women will no longer be denied insurance coverage for gender-related reasons. In today’s insurance market it is common for insurers to refuse to cover women because of gender-based “pre-existing conditions,” such as having had a Caesarean section or being the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. Thankfully, this practice will be outlawed under Obamacare in 2014. In the meantime, adults with pre-existing conditions who have been uninsured for at least six months can purchase affordable coverage through temporary Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plans.
2. Women will no longer be charged more for their insurance coverage just for being women. Under a practice known as “gender rating,” insurers currently charge women higher premiums than men—up to 150 percent more—for identical health benefits. As a result, women now pay $1 billion more than men each year for the same health plans in the individual market. As of 2014, however, under the Affordable Care Act, gender rating will become illegal in all new individual and small group plans.
3. Maternity care will be required in new insurance plans. Coverage for maternity care—health care that only women need—is routinely excluded in the individual insurance market. Only 12 percent of plans sold in the individual market even offer maternity coverage, which is frequently inadequate because of waiting periods or deductibles that can be as high as the cost of the birth itself. But once Obamacare is fully implemented in 2014, about 8.7 million women will have guaranteed access to maternity care in all new individual and small group plans.
4. Women will be guaranteed coverage of preventive services with no cost sharing. More than 50 percent of women have delayed seeking medical care due to cost, and one-third of women report forgoing basic necessities to pay for health care. But under the health reform law, insurers are now required to cover recommended preventive services such as mammograms, Pap smears, and well-baby care without cost sharing. More than 45 million women have already taken advantage of these services. And starting this August more services—including contraception, gestational diabetes screening, and breastfeeding supports—will be added to the list of preventive care that must be covered at no additional cost.
5. Women will gain better access to affordable health insurance. Starting in 2014 women and their families, as well as small businesses, will receive tax credits on an income-based sliding scale to help purchase insurance coverage. This will help individuals who earn up to $43,000 per year and up to $92,200 for families of four. Also in 2014 up to 10.3 million women will gain insurance coverage when Medicaid expands its income eligibility to include people with incomes below 138 percent of the federal poverty level—less than $15,000 for individuals and about $31,809 for a family of four in 2011. The health law also eliminates Medicaid’s categorical requirements, so that low-income women who meet the income requirements can enroll even if they have no children and are not pregnant.
To learn more about the benefits of Obamacare for women, see the Center for American Progress report “Women and Obamacare.”
Jessica Arons is the Director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress.