Key elements of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act took effect this week, offering insured women eight preventive health services, including birth control, minus the usual out-of-pocket costs.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says that as many as 47 million women could be eligible for the so-called Well Woman Prevention benefits as their health insurance plans are renewed over the coming months and the law begins to have impact.
"Because of the Affordable Care Act , women in private plans and Medicare already have received potentially life-saving services, such as mammograms, cholesterol screenings and flu shots at no extra cost," Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary, wrote in a blog post. "The law builds on these benefits, requiring new, non-grandfathered private health plans to offer eight additional screenings and tests for adolescent and adult women."
The free health services for women are:
The new benefits, however, aren't guaranteed for the long haul. Opponents, including Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have vowed to repeal the federal health care reform law. The GOP-controlled House of Representatives has voted several times against health reform, which is destined to be a polarizing issue during the upcoming presidential campaign and beyond.
Cindy Pearson, executive director for the National Women's Health Network, says the benefits represent an historic move forward in helping women stay healthy through regular screenings that could reveal treatable problems before they become life threatening. (See: Health reform sticks: now what?")
Many women, especially those with low incomes, don't always get tested because of the costs. Removing that burden ensures a healthier generation of women, Pearson says.
The benefits, once available to every woman with medical insurance, could save as much as $466 billion a year in health costs through early detection and treatment, said Paula Johnson, a Harvard Medical School professor and expert in preventive medicine, during the press conference.
Johnson gave the example of diabetes, which she said can be monitored and controlled with relatively low costs if detected early. But once the condition becomes life-threatening, the expenses of medical treatment rise along with dangers to the patient.
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