June 29, 2012 — Thursday's Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) clears the way for key women's health provisions that begin taking effect later this summer, the Huffington Post reports.
Beginning in August, new private health plans will be required to cover a slate of women's preventive health services without out-of-pocket fees, including contraceptive services, one annual preventive health exam, screenings for sexually transmitted infections and gestational diabetes, breastfeeding support and supplies, and domestic violence screenings.
Other provisions that benefit women are set to take effect later on. Currently, 62% of women who have insurance in the individual market do not have maternity coverage; 8.7 million more women will gain that coverage beginning in 2014 under the ACA, according to the Huffington Post.
In addition, insurers will no longer be permitted to charge women higher premiums than men for the same coverage or deny coverage because of "pre-existing conditions" such as breast cancer, pregnancy or a history of domestic abuse (Bassett, Huffington Post, 6/28).
Obamas, Sen. Mikulski Tout Women's Health Provisions
In his remarks after the ruling, President Obama cited the provision barring discriminatory practices by insurers, saying, "They won't be able to charge you more because you're a woman" (Fish, "She The People," Washington Post, 6/28).
First lady Michelle Obama said the decision is "truly a victory for families all across this country," noting that insurers "will have to cover preventative care for things like contraception, cancer screening, prenatal care" (Slack, "44," Politico, 6/28).
Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) -- who led the push for the preventive services provision -- also commended the decision (Fritze, Baltimore Sun, 6/28). "For we women, it's an enormous victory," she said on the steps of the Supreme Court, adding, "No longer will women pay 30% more for their health care than men of the same health care status" and "simply being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition" (MarylandReporter, 6/29).
Planned Parenthood Affiliates, Advocacy Groups Weigh In
The ruling guarantees that "millions of women and families will continue to have access to affordable, quality health care -- many of whom previously had inadequate coverage or no coverage at all," Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of North Florida, wrote in a Gainesville Sun opinion piece (Fox, Gainesville Sun, 6/29).
In a statement, Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest highlighted the economic benefits of contraceptive access. "Women spend up to $600 a year on birth control," according to the group (Prentice, BoiseWeekly, 6/28).
Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, wrote in a Fox News Latino opinion piece that for Latinas, "who already face a disproportionate number of barriers to care," the decision to uphold the ACA "ensures that they can make the healthiest decisions for themselves and their families" (González-Rojas, Fox News Latino, 6/28).
Mixed Reaction From Catholic Groups
Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Thursday said it would not join efforts to repeal the ACA but pledged to continue pursuing efforts to undo the requirement that employees, including those of certain religiously affiliated employers, be provided with contraceptive coverage, the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports (Olson, Riverside Press-Enterprise, 6/28).
The bishops also repeated claims that the ACA expands federal funding for abortion services and does not guarantee health care access for immigrants. "The bishops want universal [health] care, but this doesn't provide it," spokesperson Sister Mary Ann Walsh said, adding, "[I]f you're aborting children you're certainly not giving them universal health care" (Boorstein, "Under God," Washington Post, 6/28).
Meanwhile, the Catholic Health Association -- which represents Catholic hospitals -- said it was "pleased" with the ruling. "CHA has long supported health reform that expands access and coverage to everyone," CHA President and CEO Sister Carol Keehan said in a statement, noting that the group had encouraged the court to rule in favor of the individual mandate and the Medicaid expansion. CHA this month joined the bishops in opposing the contraceptive coverage requirement (Selvam, Modern Healthcare, 6/28).
The Supreme Court decision was also praised by liberal Catholic groups such as Network and Catholics United (Riverside Press-Enterprise, 6/28).