By Kathleen Sebelius
Most people don't know that the Affordable Care Act is the strongest women's health law since Medicare. If you look around the country you can see millions of American women getting more freedom in their health care choices.
It's about time.
Despite all the progress women have made in the workplace, when President Obama took office less than half of us had the option of getting health insurance through our employer. 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. 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 women with insurance who will have the freedom to make important choices, like changing jobs, without worrying about health coverage.
The law is also bringing greater fairness to women and families. Before the law was enacted, a 22-year-old woman could pay 150 percent more than a 22-year-old man for the exact same health insurance. Yet her coverage often failed to meet her needs. 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 where plans will be required to cover newborn and maternity care.
The health law is also protecting women from many of the worst abuses of the insurance industry. The Patient's Bill of Rights has banned harmful policies like lifetime dollar limits, which often meant your benefits disappeared when you needed them most.
And we've removed the obstacles between families and their doctors, so you won't have to ask permission from your insurance company to see a pediatrician or OB-GYN in your network.
The law also ensures that women have access to the care they need to lead healthy lives. In the past too many women went without care or screenings due to expensive co-pays. But under the law, every American who buys a new plan can access free preventive care 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.
These new rights and benefits are just the beginning. In the coming months and years the Affordable Care Act will continue to improve women's health.
To learn more about how the law is helping women and families, check out this new web resource dedicated to the new rights and benefits available to women.