Optimizing Outcomes for Women's Health Care: A Conversation With NOW President Terry O'Neill


Women have always stood at the forefront of advocating for their health. By understanding how women's health care issues affect the working world, we can begin to address the coverage inequalities that persist. I sat down with my colleague NOW President Terry O'Neill to discuss the challenges facing women today when it comes to healthcare, and the options for doing better in 2016.

We agreed that it's a lot easier this year. Provisions of the Affordable Care Act now give you access to knowledgeable insurance agents and personal health advocates such as those made available through the Working America Health Care program. Today women have access to more resources than ever before -- ones that will allow them to make better healthcare decisions. However, it's still important to ask the right questions and dive into the issues.

Gaps in Coverage

By and large, women make most of the health care decisions in family households. They are also 40% more likely than men to seek medical attention. That is mostly due to their need for reproductive health care during their childbearing years. Even after menopause, women are more likely than men to experience "co-occurring" conditions - such as high blood pressure and diabetes; or both heart disease and emphysema.

With 57 percent of women participating in the workforce, you would think their employers would provide insurance, right? Not necessarily.

Two-thirds of minimum wage jobs -- which almost never provide health benefits -- are held by women, disproportionately women of color. Just over one-third of women, compared with nearly half of men, receive insurance coverage through their employer. This situation is made especially dire when you consider that, according to the Medical Expenditures Panel Survey, women's out of pocket healthcare expenses are 69% higher than men's.

Coverage, Access and Affordability

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, millions of previously uninsured women now have access to health insurance. O'Neill noted that the ACA requires insurers to make their policies fairer than they have been in the past. "No longer can you be denied coverage due to 'pre-existing conditions,' which for women included C-sections and even domestic violence," O'Neill said. "Gone are the days when insurers engaged in "gender-rating" -- charging higher premiums to women for exactly the same coverage." In addition, parents can now keep children covered on their policies up to age 26.

From a woman's perspective, perhaps the most important achievement of the ACA is its requirement that all insurance plans cover a range of preventive reproductive health services without any co-pay's or deductibles. These services include contraception, mammograms, cancer screenings, lactation assistance for new mothers, domestic violence screenings, and more.

Just as no two women or families are exactly the same, no two health care plans are identical, and you need to do your homework before picking the plan that's best for your household. No one wants to overpay for health care services, but weighing the coverage you get for the price can be challenging.

If you are getting your insurance through a state-based marketplace, agents and brokers can help you enroll and choose the plan that best fits your family's particular circumstances. They will determine whether you are eligible for a premium subsidy and help you get premium tax credits and savings on out-of-pocket costs.

Additionally, the Working America Health Care program gives its members access to a complimentary personal health advocate who can answer questions about coverage, recommend the right providers and hospitals, and help untangle medical bills and claims.

As women, we need to value our health to ensure that we're taking care of ourselves as well as our families. Whether that's going for a walk for daily exercise, taking ourselves to a physician when we can't quite kick that cold, or being proactive and getting yearly cancer screenings, we owe it to ourselves to seek out optimal chances for health, happiness and longevity.

For more information about Working America Health Care program guidance visit WorkingAmericaHealthCare.org/NOW or call a representative at 888-370-7225.