For the two of us, life as advocates for affordable and accessible women’s health care has been a long and often rocky road, forged incrementally, step by step. We always knew it was worth it, but these piecemeal gains have always been balanced with detours and uncertainty about when and whether we would reach the next victory.
One of the issues closest to our hearts is preventive care for women. We have both helped score victories on the state level for which we are very proud and grateful. But after years of work, President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act finally accomplishes in one fell swoop what we and hundreds of others in Maine have worked toward, slowly and incrementally, for decades.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration recently announced new guidelines for women’s preventive care, which help open the door to life-saving and life-enhancing services for women.
As we all know, passing this monumental legislation was not easy. One reason is that whenever women’s health care is debated in the Legislature or in Congress, those on the fringe insist on playing political football with the services that are key to women’s health and quality of life.
Thanks to these new guidelines, women with new insurance plans will no longer have to pay a co-pay or deductible for well-women visits, mammograms, annual pap tests, screening for gestational diabetes, access to FDA-approved contraception and a host of other services.
Fortunately, President Obama and Secretary Sibelius held fast against pressure to compromise on women’s preventative care. Finally, we have leaders in Washington who refuse to “play ball” with those determined to trade off women’s health to score political points.
Why is the Affordable Care Act important to women, in particular? The calculus is simple: women and men have different needs, requiring us to have more frequent visits for services such as yearly pap smears and mammograms — which can be life-saving but also make us vulnerable to higher out-of-pocket health care costs.
Even though women are more likely to need preventive health care services, a recent national survey found that 44 percent of women reported delaying or avoiding care because of costs. Under the new guidelines, cost-sharing requirements are gone, ensuring that new insurance plans will offer preventive services without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible.
Let’s share this good and long-overdue news with our co-workers, neighbors, family members, and friends. If you’re employed, gather your co-workers and lobby your employer to sign up for these preventive measures today. Women and men should celebrate this victory, because no one’s mother, daughter, sister, niece, aunt, grandmother or granddaughter should ever struggle or suffer with a preventable illness.
Why? It’s as simple as this: preventive services save lives. And because we’re worth it.
Here’s to the thousands of women who will be able to tell their granddaughters about the victory that allowed us to celebrate a fair and more just world.
Joanne D’Arcangelo lives in Portland and former State Sen. Mary Cathcart lives in Orono. Both have been longtime advocates for equality and fairness in health care for women and their families.