Women and Preventive Health
When it comes to health, women are often the primary decision-maker for their families and the trusted source in circles of friends. They are also key consumers of health care. Women have unique needs and have high rates of chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
While women are more likely to need preventive health care services, they often have less ability to pay. On average they have lower incomes than men and a greater share of their income is consumed by out-of-pocket health costs. A report by the Commonwealth Fund found that in 2009 more than half of women delayed or avoided necessary care because of cost. Removing cost-sharing requirements lets women decide which preventive services they’ll use and when. In fact, one study found that the rate of women getting a mammogram went up as much as 9% when cost sharing was removed. In addition to saving lives by catching cancer early, mammograms can also protect families from skyrocketing medical bills that result from treating the advanced stages of the disease.
New Comprehensive Coverage for Women’s Preventive Care
The Affordable Care Act helps make prevention affordable and accessible for all Americans by requiring new health plans to cover and eliminate cost sharing for preventive services recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and the Bright Futures Guidelines recommended by the Academy of Pediatrics.
The law also requires insurance companies to cover additional preventive health benefits for women. For the first time, HHS is adopting new guidelines for women’s preventive services to fill the gaps in current preventive services guidelines for women’s health, ensuring a comprehensive set of preventive services for women.
Previously, preventive services for women had been recommended one-by-one or as part of guidelines targeted at men as well. HHS directed the IIOM, for the first time ever, to conduct a scientific review and provide recommendations on specific preventive measures that meet women’s unique health needs and help keep them healthy. HHS based its Guidelines for Women’s Preventive Services on the IOM report issued July 19, 2011.
The eight new additional women’s preventive services that will be covered without cost-sharing requirements include:
- Well-woman visits: This would include an annual well-woman preventive care visit for adult women to obtain the recommended preventive services, and additional visits if women and their health care providers determine they are necessary. These visits will help women and their health care providers determine what preventive services are appropriate, and set up a plan to help women get the care they need to be healthy.
- Gestational diabetes screening: This screening is for women 24 to 28 weeks pregnant, and those at high risk of developing gestational diabetes. It will help improve the health of mothers and babies because women who have gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. In addition, the children of women with gestational diabetes are at significantly increased risk of being overweight and insulin-resistant throughout childhood.
- HPV DNA testing: Women who are 30 or older will have access to high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing every three years, regardless of Pap smear results. Early screening, detection, and treatment have been shown to help reduce the prevalence of cervical cancer.
- STI counseling: Sexually-active women will have access to annual counseling on sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These sessions have been shown to reduce risky behavior in patients, yet only 28 percent of women aged 18-44 years reported that they had discussed STIs with a doctor or nurse.
- HIV screening and counseling: Sexually-active women will have access to annual counseling on HIV. Women are at increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. From 1999 to 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 15% increase in AIDS cases among women, and a 1% increase among men.
- Contraception and contraceptive counseling: Women will have access to all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling. These recommendations do not include abortifacient drugs. Most workers in employer-sponsored plans are currently covered for contraceptives. Contraception has additional health benefits like reduced risk of cancer and protection against osteoporosis.
- Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling: Pregnant and postpartum women will have access to comprehensive lactation support and counseling from trained providers, as well as breastfeeding equipment. Breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive measures mothers can take to protect their health and that of their children. One of the barriers for breastfeeding is the cost of purchasing or renting breast pumps and nursing related supplies.
- Interpersonal and domestic violence screening and counseling: Screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence should be provided for all adolescent and adult women. An estimated 25% of women in the United States report being targets of intimate partner violence during their lifetimes. Screening is effective in the early detection and effectiveness of interventions to increase the safety of abused women.