March 1 marked the beginning of Women's History Month. This year's theme is as fitting as it is exciting: "Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination: Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)."
The nation this year recognizes such extraordinary women as Patricia Era Bath (1942), whose invention of the Laserphaco Probe was an important milestone in the advent of laser cataract surgery; Rita R. Colwell (1934), the first woman director of the National Science Foundation; Susan A. Gerbi (1944), a molecular cell biologist whose research has potential significance in understanding the role of hormones in certain cancers; and Flossie Wong-Staal (1946), a virologist and molecular biologist whose work made it possible to develop HIV tests.
And I want to acknowledge the thousands of women who work throughout the Department making sure that groundbreaking biomedical research moves forward, that life-saving vaccines are getting to the public, that community health clinics are accessible to families who have nowhere else to go, that drugs are safe, that our seniors get the health care they need, and that our young children at risk get the Head Start support that is vital to their future success in school.
The success of American women is critical to our families and economy. Among the initiatives of this administration to advance gender equality, are efforts to bring more women into science and health care professions. Women who hold STEM degrees and jobs earn 30 percent more on average than women in non-STEM jobs.
We also know that American women -- and men -- will not have the opportunity to fulfill their potential, provide for their families, and contribute to their communities without accessible, affordable and high-quality health care and insurance. For too long, insurance companies stacked the deck against women, forcing us to pay more for coverage that did not meet our needs. Because of the Affordable Care Act, a new day for women's health has arrived. Thanks to the health care law, millions of women are benefiting from expanded access to preventive services, such as mammograms and prenatal care, at no additional cost. And millions more will soon have access to the Health Insurance Marketplace -- open enrollment starts Oct. 1, 2013 -- where they can compare health plans based on benefits, quality and cost and choose the one that best fits their needs.
During Women's History Month, let us remember the women pioneers in the sciences and work to continue their legacy.