By Jordan Blum
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and other Senate Democrats touted the beginning of new preventive health care benefits beginning Wednesday for women without increasing direct costs under President Barack Obama's health care law.
The extra services for new or renewed insurance plans range from women's wellness exams and HIV testing to the controversial contraception mandate that is being challenged in court by several Catholic organizations.
The rule changes phased in Wednesday are expected to affect 47 million women nationwide. Landrieu said more than 600,000 women in Louisiana who currently have private insurance will benefit as well.
"Women are the caregivers of the nation," said Landrieu, D-La., arguing that healthier women make for healthier families and a healthier nation, including economically. "It's a shame all this was illegal until today."
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said that "being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition in this country."
Not until 2014 though, when the Affordable Care Act can be fully implemented, will insurance companies be banned from denying health insurance to people with preexisting conditions, such as breast cancer.
"No woman should have to choose between health care and putting food on the table for her family," Sebelius said.
The "Preventative Women's Health Care Amendment" going into effect was led by U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., as part of Obama's plan.
Mikulski called the day a "giant step forward" for female health care access without cost or discrimination barriers. Because of costs, women are often the first to set aside their own well-being in order to ensure their families get the proper care, she said, which will now change.
Other new services made available in the rule changes include sexually transmitted disease screenings and counseling, breast-feeding support and supplies, domestic violence screenings, HPV testing, gestational diabetes screenings and more.
Early detection of health problems through mammograms, breast cancer screenings and much more will save money in the long run by stopping diseases before they can worsen and become more costly, she said.
But many Republicans said the changes will indirectly cost people more and eliminate insurance options for people.
U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, said Obama's health care law is increasing the costs of insurance premiums.
"They're not free," Cassidy said of the added health care services for women. "Those costs are passed back to the people paying the insurance. They can look past the political deception and the (Democratic) press conferences."
Businesses will end up paying more to insure female employees, Cassidy said, which could make women more susceptible to layoffs.
Cassidy, a physician who could challenge Landrieu in 2014, has touted a movement toward more health saving accounts that allow customers to better pick and choose their benefits and potentially save costs.
Critics argue that emphasizing HSAs will leave a lot more people uninsured with some of the healthy avoiding insurance coverage altogether and the sick unable to afford such plans.
Cassidy recently introduced a bill allowing insurance companies to offer HSAs for couples about to start families so that the pre- and-postnatal care also is insured.
Such a move toward HSAs would be aided by repealing Obama's health care law, Cassidy said.
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., asked Tuesday for a vote on an amendment for a full repeal of the health care law. McConnell's amendment would be tacked onto a cybersecurity bill under debate on the Senate floor.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., called it "ridiculous" to try to tack contraception and health care issues onto such an unrelated cybersecurity bill.
As for the birth control debate, a federal judge in Colorado last week imposed a preliminary injunction halting the so-called "contraception mandate" in the case of a heating and air conditioning company whose owners are Catholic. The judge ruled the owners would be harmed if they provided insurance coverage for contraception for their employees in apparent conflict with their religious convictions.
By Jordan Blum
U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, argued Tuesday that a "sensible middle ground" was found when the Obama administration exempted churches from the mandate, but not insurance companies and for-profit institutions.
He said the preliminary injunction is very early in the process and may not stand.
Harkin also noted that many women are put on birth control to control menstrual problems and other issues completely unrelated to sexual activity.