Yarrow Willman-Cole is an organizer with New Jersey Citizen Action. Legislation to create the New Jersey health insurance exchange, A2171/S1319, is scheduled for a vote Thursday in the Assembly & Senate. To take action on tomorrow's exchange bill vote, go here. NJCA operates a Helpline to assist callers in navigating the health care system. It's 1-888-NJ-GET-WELL.
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Michelle Obama delivered a compelling speech in 2009 about the importance of health insurance reform for women. The first lady, in recounting a story of the Obamas' daughter Sasha's meningitis scare, reminded us that health insurance is a personal issue.
Women are often the major decision makers on health issues for their families while facing numerous barriers to health care for themselves such as lack of coverage, out-of-pocket expenses, and more. Basic health needs for women are more complex than for men, and routine screening and care, such as pap smears and mammograms are crucial in preventing and treating serious illness. This type of preventive care is often not covered by medical insurance policies or there are significant cost barriers.
In the United States, 20% of women between the ages of 18 and 64 are without any type of health insurance. Even more staggering, 39% of Latina women and 25% of African-American women are uninsured. Of working women, only half are able to get health coverage through their jobs compared to 57% of men. When insured, many women are at higher risk of losing their insurance, since more women are employed in a part time situation without coverage, or are dependent on their spouse's insurance. Many women are priced out of coverage on the individual private insurance market since insurance companies are able to gender discriminate and frequently charge more for health care plans for women.
Federal health insurance reform takes major strides towards fixing many of these inequities and removing barriers to quality care for women. Beginning August 1, 2012, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), will require that women's preventive services, including contraception, will be covered with no co-pays in new health plans. Insurance companies will no longer be able to charge women more for coverage on the individual insurance market. The uninsured will gain access to subsidized coverage and all plans sold on the individual market must cover a minimum level of services, including maternity care.
The ACA also requires that each state have up and running by 2014, a health insurance "exchange" - a new competitive marketplace where individuals will be able to purchase more affordable private health insurance. The exchange will enable women to enroll themselves and their families in the best insurance plan by simple, comparison-shopping. Through the exchange, individuals will be able to find out if they are eligible for programs to make insurance more affordable, such as subsidies or public programs like Medicaid and New Jersey Family Care. Families will be able to maintain coverage year after year without unnecessary disruptions.
Legislation to create the New Jersey health insurance exchange has been introduced in Trenton. This pro-consumer bill (A2171/S1319) is scheduled to be voted on Thursday, March 15 in the State Senate and Assembly. Hopefully New Jersey's legislature will vote yes and the state will be well on its way to complying with the Affordable Care Act and increasing access to affordable, quality health insurance.
It is critical to defend against attacks on women's health but we must also champion and promote the benefits of the Affordable Care Act for women. We should share our stories of how the health insurance system has left us uncovered and vulnerable and how as a result, our health and finances have suffered. Affordable, quality health insurance coverage offers women the peace of mind in knowing that their health and their families' health will not slip through the cracks. We need to ensure that the health insurance exchange works for New Jersey's families, not just the insurance companies. I encourage every woman to raise her voice and demand to be at the forefront when changes to the health care system are being discussed.