This article contains a correction.
At the end of March, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. This signature piece of legislation from the Obama administration drastically reforms the landscape of health care coverage in the United States. And as CAP’s Jessica Arons states in her report “Women and Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act greatly improves coverage for one of the most vulnerable groups in the American population: women of color. If the act is found unconstitutional, these women stand to lose more than most.
Below we outline 10 ways the Affordable Care Act benefits women of color:
1. The Affordable Care Act’s coverage increases will especially help women of color, who are less likely to be insured. While women of color represent 36.3 percent of the U.S. female population, they account for 53.2 percent of uninsured women. In 2014 up to 10.3 million women will gain insurance coverage when Medicaid expands its 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.
2. Coverage increases will help reduce health disparities affecting women of color. Women of color have disproportionately higher rates of diabetes, obesity, heart disease and hypertension, and certain forms of cancer. Annually, 1,722 African American women die from breast cancer, meaning that the disease claims the lives of five African American women each day. Increased coverage will reduce these disparities by improving access to adequate health insurance and health care for women of color.
3. New provisions in the act will eliminate gender rating. Under a practice known as “gender rating,” insurers can legally charge women higher premiums than men 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.
4. Insurance companies can no longer place a lifetime limit on covered medical expenses. Approximately 39.5 million women have already benefited from this provision, which especially helps those living with a chronic condition, and the act has already eliminated lifetime limits for 10.4 million African Americans with private insurance coverage.
5. The act’s improved health data collection better tracks and addresses health disparities that disproportionately impact women of color. The act makes investments in uniform data collection standards across the Department of Health and Human Services and better defines data collection categories by race, ethnicity, sex, disability, and primary languages. These improvements will help the department categorize information more clearly and allocate resources appropriately to improve health outcomes for women of color.
6. The act promotes health literacy and cultural competency. Insurers are now required to improve access to health care information for consumers with low literacy levels and limited English proficiency.The new law also offers incentives for increasing racial and ethnic diversity among the health care workforce and creates opportunities for medical professionals to receive training on how to provide culturally sensitive care.
7. The act provides women of color with coverage for 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. The preventive services already covered include mammograms, Pap smears, and screenings for high blood pressure and obesity—all services that benefit women of color.
8. The act gives women of color more control over their reproductive health by requiring insurance plans to provide no-cost coverage of FDA-approved contraceptives. Latina women experience unintended pregnancies at double the rate of their white counterparts, and African American women three times the rate. Women of color are also at higher risk of diseases like gestational diabetes, which can be prevented by consistent contraceptive use. High costs currently deny many women access to contraception. By removing the financial hurdles to obtaining contraception, the Affordable Care Act ensures that women of color can access this vital health service.
9. Women of color are already benefiting greatly from the new preventive coverage provisions. An estimated 5.5 million African Americans, 6.1 million Latinos, 2.7 million Asians, and 0.3 million Native Americans, many of them women, are currently receiving expanded preventive service coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
10. The act increases funding for community health centers, which disproportionately provide care to individuals of color. From fiscal year 2011 through 2015, the act appropriates $11 billion to community health centers. In 2010, 34.4 percent of community health center patients were Latino and an additional 25.8 percent were African American. In that year the two groups made up only 16 percent and 13 percent of the national population, respectively.
The Affordable Care Act promises to make concrete improvements in access to quality health care for women of color by expanding insurance coverage, requiring no-cost coverage of preventive services, promoting cultural competency among the health care workforce, and improving data collection on health disparities. Striking down the act would remove vital protections for an already vulnerable segment of the American population.
* Correction, May 4, 2012: The original column incorrectly stated that women of color comprised 32 percent of the total U.S. population and 51 percent of all uninsured people.
Abigail Ridley-Kerr and Rachel Wilf are interns with the Progress 2050 department at the Center for American Progress.