Women's Health Town Hall

By:  Kathleen Sebelius
Date: June 7, 2012
Location: Washington, DC

Thank you, Cecilia.

As you've just heard from the other speakers, this is probably the most important women's health law in nearly 50 years.

Cecilia just covered some of the critical new benefits. But I think it's especially important to realize what a big difference this will make for women in the insurance market.

As Cecilia said, at some point in our lifetime, most women will have to go out and buy insurance on our own.

And in the past that's meant overcoming a series of barriers.

First, you had to get in the door. But it wasn't easy. Insurance companies could deny us coverage because of anything from being a breast cancer survivor to delivering a baby by C-section to being a victim of domestic violence.

Now let's say you were lucky and healthy. Even then, insurers could charge women up to 50 percent more than men just for being women. Essentially, this meant that being a woman was, in itself, a pre-existing condition. One study found that this disparity cost women $1 billion a year.

Then, adding insult to injury, even if you could find coverage and afford it, there was a good chance that coverage didn't even cover your most basic needs. As Judy and the National Women's Law Center have found, only one in eight plans in the individual market covered maternity care -- as if pregnancy were some very rare, unusual condition.

Finally, even if you paid the extra money and got coverage, insurers could still take it away. All they needed to do was find an unintentional error in your paperwork. In fact, we know that some insurers used algorithms to look for exactly these kinds of paperwork mistakes for women who were fighting breast cancer.

The deck was stacked against all Americans in the health system, but especially against women. So what we've done with the health care law is put in place some basic fairness.

First, in 2014, it will be illegal to withhold coverage from someone just because they have a pre-existing condition.

Second, it will be illegal to charge women more than men just because of their gender. Being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition.

Third, the coverage women buy will be guaranteed to cover basic needs like preventive services and maternity care.

And fourth, we've put in place a Patient's Bill of Rights that stops insurers from taking away coverage when a woman needs it most, just because of a paperwork error.

In the past few months, I've travelled around the country holding a series of living room conversations with women of all ages and walks of life about how the Affordable Care Act has helped them. I've met with mothers of young adult children who can now keep their kids on their health plan until age 26. I've met with women fighting diseases like breast cancer whose lives were saved when they joined a new Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan and got the care they needed.

What the law means for them, and all women, is peace of mind. Peace of mind that no matter their circumstance - whether they need insurance because they get divorced, or start a business, or because they're a blogger or freelance journalist -- there will be a health system that works for them and cares about their needs. That's what the law is all about.

Thank you.

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