Exclusive: Kathleen Sebelius on Why Repealing the Healthcare Law Would Be Costly for Women

As the Affordable Care Act reaches its first anniversary, the Health and Human Services Secretary explains how it's benefitting women and families

To win in the future, America will need to make the kind of investments and reforms that give every family a chance to thrive. Effectively implementing the Affordable Care Act is a vital part of this effort.

But some in Congress want to refight the political battles of the past two years and repeal the law along with all the new consumer protections and benefits that go with it. That would be a major setback for women and families.

Despite all the progress women have made in the workplace, less than half of us had the option of getting health insurance through our employer when President Obama took office. That meant that many of us had to look for coverage in the individual market where the insurance companies had most of the power. If you had a breast cancer diagnosis, they could deny your application. Sometimes, they could even deny you coverage if you had been a victim of domestic violence. If your child had diabetes, they could deny him or her coverage, too.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, that’s changing. As of last fall, insurers can no longer deny coverage to children because of their pre-existing health conditions. They can’t say "no" to your son just because he was born with a heart condition or to your daughter because she has asthma. And in 2014, this protection will extend to all Americans.

That’s not just important for women who are currently locked out of the health insurance market. It also makes an enormous difference for any woman who may be staying in a job she doesn’t like just because she is afraid of losing her health insurance. The healthcare law will give her the freedom to make important choices without worrying about health coverage. The healthcare law is also bringing greater fairness to the insurance market for women and families. Before the law was enacted, women in their twenties could pay 50 percent more than men for the exact same health insurance. [Editors' note: Insurers have claimed that women tend to cost more than men to insure because they typically use more healthcare.] Yet their coverage often failed to meet their needs. Eighty percent of plans in the individual market didn’t even cover maternity care. Thanks to the law, in 2014 it will be illegal to charge women extra for health insurance.

And starting in 2014, new, competitive health insurance marketplaces will be established under the law in which plans will be required to offer newborn and maternity care.

The law is also protecting women from many of the worst abuses of the insurance industry. A year ago, insurers could cancel your coverage when you got sick just because you made a mistake on your application. Under the Patient’s Bill of Rights, this practice has been banned, along with other harmful policies like lifetime dollar limits, which often meant your benefits disappeared when you needed them most.

Now, young Americans can stay on their parents’ plans until they turn 26 if they don’t have access to coverage of their own, giving families across the country peace of mind. Millions of older Americans are receiving more affordable medications. And we’ve removed the obstacles between families and their doctors, so that inside their networks millions of families can see the physician, pediatrician, and OB/GYN of their choice, without having to ask permission from an insurance company.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, every American who buys a new plan can access preventive care with zero out-of-pocket costs for services like Pap smears and mammograms. That means women are no longer going to have to put off breast cancer screenings, taking the risk that their cancer could be caught late -- when chances of survival can be as low as 23 percent -- instead of early, when the survival rate is 98 percent. Repeal would make it harder for millions of women to get the preventive care and screenings they need.

For women across the country the new healthcare law is already making a difference in their lives and their families’ health. Undoing this progress now would be a terrible mistake.

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