According to a report issued by the Commonwealth Fund, a private health research firm in New York City, the new healthcare reform law named the Affordable Care Act will help as many as 30 million women, including 15 million women who are currently uninsured. Sarah Collins, Vice President for affordable health insurance at the Commonwealth Fund, reported that 17 million working-age women were uninsured in 2008 and 14.5 million women had such high out-of-pocket costs that they were effectively underinsured. With the high unemployment rate, these figures have likely increased since 2008.
Karen Davis, the Commonwealth Fund president, explained that women are more likely than men to incur medical debt, encounter bill problems, and meet difficulty obtaining insurance. Collins reports that about 7.3 million women ages 19 to 64 were turned down when they tried to buy an insurance plan, were charged a higher rate than men, or had a pre-existing condition excluded when they tried to buy in.
Although the new law will not take full effect until 2014, there are some transitional benefits that will come into play sooner. Under an early provision, young adults up to age 26 can remain on or join their parents’ insurance plans. This extension will give one million uninsured young adults insurance coverage. Insurers are not allowed to cancel insurance policies when a person in sick. In addition, there will be full coverage of preventative tests like mammograms, cervical cancer screening, genetic counseling, testing for breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, as well as other screening exams. Health plans sold through states must cover maternal and newborn care.
The new plan eliminates insurer limits, or the amount that insurance companies must pay in the event that a client becomes ill. Also, there will no longer be a “doughnut hole,” a coverage gap where Medicare will no longer pay for medications and consumers are forced to pay full price for prescription medications until they spend a certain amount. The new plan offers a $250 rebate to those in the doughnut hole starting this year.
No doubt these benefits will improve healthcare access. However, critics believe 46% of newly insured individuals will only have coverage from Medicaid, not from a superior private insurance plan. As a result, these newly insured will also reach difficulty accessing a primary care doctor, since one-third of doctors do not accept Medicaid as payment. By eliminating co-payments for screening tests, the new plan looks to taxpayers and insurance premium payers to compensate for the difference. Unfortunately, as Michael D. Tanner, senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a nonprofit libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., concludes, “There is no free lunch. Nobody is giving away health care.”