Beginning with Mother's Day on Sunday, we celebrate National Women's Health Week by encouraging the women in our lives -- our mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, cousins, friends, and colleagues -- to take steps to live healthier, happier lives.
We know that women are often the ones who make sure everyone -- everyone else, that is -- in our families are cared for. But too often, we put our own health last.
But the reality is unless you take care of yourself, you cannot really take care of your family. That means eating right, exercising, quitting smoking, and getting the care necessary to stay healthy. In fact, you can now use websites, apps, and mobile devices to help you track and manage your health.
Preventive services are critical to helping us stay healthy, but unfortunately they have not always been affordable. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it is a new day for women's health by making it easier for women to take control of their own health.
For many women, preventive services like mammograms, birth control, smoking cessation services, and annual well-woman visits are now available without any out-of-pocket costs. Also, as of 2014, the Affordable Care Act requires most insurers to cover maternity benefits as part of the package of essential health benefits.
And insurers can no longer refuse women coverage just because they're battling breast cancer or have another pre-existing condition -- and they won't be allowed to charge women more just because they're women. Being a woman is no longer a pre-existing condition.
It's not just women with job-based insurance who are benefitting from the Affordable Care Act. The law has greatly expanded access to quality, affordable health coverage to uninsured women and men. More than 8 million Americans -- more than 4.3 million of whom are women -- have enrolled in affordable health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace. Open enrollment begins again in November.
This means that a mother like Shellie Braggs of Dallas now has peace of mind knowing that she has health insurance. Shellie says: "I'm very excited to finally be covered. As a single mom, I have an obligation to take care of myself and my kids, and now I can focus on that."
At the Department of Health and Human Services, we're also looking into the science of women's health. The National Institutes of Health and the academic scientists it funds, have made enormous strides in improving women's health, from discovering how to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child to developing vaccines that protect against certain types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. And we've learned that certain conditions and medications affect women and men differently.
Also, the National Cancer Institute recently launched SmokefreeMOM, a text message initiative to provide tips, advice, and encouragement to help reduce smoking among pregnant women.
Being healthy starts with each of us. So during National Women's Health Week -- and throughout the year -- I encourage you to sit down with your doctor or health care provider and talk about what you can do to take control of your health.
And when you call your mother to wish her a happy Mother's Day, ask her to talk to her health care provider, too!