Eight years ago I had the incredible opportunity to be invited to serve as one of the first Regional Coordinators for the Raising Women’s Voices collaborative. With the election of Barack Obama, true health care reform could be seen on the horizon and women’s health advocates were fighting to have a seat at the table or at least be in the room when critical conversations took place.
Groups like ours had recognized that women’s health care needs have always been greater, especially during their reproductive years. We were keenly aware of how the U.S. health care system had failed to meet these needs, despite the fact that women historically have played a central role in coordinating health care for family members, are the majority of health care workers in this country, and often lived with chronic health conditions and disabilities.
Because insurance carriers deemed our gender “high risk,” women had a horrific time obtaining coverage from the individual market and were charged much higher premiums for the same benefits than men of the same age. These higher health care costs meant that women experienced greater problems paying medical bills and prevented women from seeking care.
And worst of all, before major reforms, insurance companies were allowed to discriminate against women due to our unique health needs. Insurers could deny coverage to us if we’d been pregnant, had fought and survived cancer, or even if we’d suffered domestic violence. In many cases, health plans didn’t even cover maternity care.
It was our job as women’s health advocates to expose the flaws in our health care system that had consistently failed to provide access to needed care for many girls and women. Our health care system as we knew it was simply unacceptable and we needed meaningful reforms that would allow women to affordably access the care and services they needed and deserved.
After fighting to get our seat at the table, we were able to inform the debate and celebrated the signing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law in March of 2010. Finally, there was a new, more equitable landscape that eliminated many of the discriminatory insurance industry practices and allowed women the opportunity to find and keep affordable insurance.
During the past six years, 8.2 million women gained coverage and fewer women and families have had to live in fear that an unexpected illness or accident will undermine their economic security or lead to bankruptcy. Seven in ten people who bought coverage through HealthCare.gov were able to get a plan with premiums of $75 per month or less. Roughly 55 million women have benefited from potentially life-saving preventive services like pap tests and mammograms without co-pays. And women have gained access to maternity coverage along with breastfeeding supplies and support.
“It’s hard to argue that the ACA has been anything other than transformational for women in our country...”
It’s hard to argue that the ACA has been anything other than transformational for women in our country and it has been worth celebrating the new more equitable bar that was set. So you can understand how infuriating and heartbreaking it is to know that the new powers-that-be in Washington are dead set on rolling back the progress we’ve made.
Incoming Congressional leadership, including Wisconsin’s own Paul Ryan, have promised to repeal the ACA as soon as they possibly can. Some analysts predict that a repeal bill will be introduced on January 3rd and could be the very first bill President Trump signs into law on January 21st. And here’s the kicker: They’re expected to repeal the ACA without an immediate replacement. They’ll do away with the ACA with one fell swoop to throw red-meat their base and give themselves a two-year window to come up with a replacement so as to conveniently not interfere with the 2018 midterm elections.
This “repeal and delay” is guaranteed to create devastating chaos including the collapse of the individual health insurance market, which would have very harmful consequences for women. If the Republicans take down the ACA through the budget reconciliation process, you can say goodbye to tax credits to help women afford private insurance and to Medicaid eligibility expansion which has helped millions of Americans access coverage and find financial security.
To be fair, many of these substantive improvements to the ACA, such as the prohibition on discriminating against those with a preexisting condition, can’t be undone through this budget reconciliation process. But this won’t matter to women who can no longer access insurance if the subsidies go away or if the individual market collapses.
Any fair person must admit that the ACA isn’t perfect and needs several improvements, but you can be confident that any eventual replacement plans put forth by the GOP won’t be anywhere near as favorable to consumers and women as the ACA.
And as if the threat of an ACA repeal isn’t enough to worry about, Republican leaders are eager to compromise the health and wellbeing of over 73 million low-income adults and children, people with disabilities, and older Americans with their promise to enact devastating cuts to Medicaid – a program incredibly important to American women, as they represent nearly 70 percent of adult enrollees.
My key take-away message is that women have everything to lose under the GOP’s version of “health care reform.” The future health and economic security of millions of American women is at stake and we better be ready to fight! Remember, after winning reelection in 2004, President Bush claimed he had a political “mandate” to privatize Social Security, and that plan went down in flames in a Republican-controlled Congress. We can similarly thwart this effort to dismantle the ACA or cut Medicaid and help it meet the same fate but we must take action NOW! Start awakening others to what’s at stake by submitting a letter to the editor today! Share what’s on the line during the holidays so women are informed and inspired to speak out. The health care “bar” for women was raised for a reason. We cannot let Republicans deny us the equity and access we fought so incredibly hard for!