It couldn’t be a more perfect week to celebrate the third annual Latina Week of Action. Eight days ago, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) began to level the playing field when it comes to gender inequity in health care by expanding women’s access to preventive health care benefits with no co-pay. And while the news and equitable coverage are monumental for all female-identified people, it’s especially significant for low-income women and women of color.
We know that disparities in health care access and coverage play out at extremely disproportionate rates when it comes to Latinas. For example, while Latinas exhibit lower breast cancer rates than white women, they are more likely than whites to be diagnosed at a later stage. Furthermore, LGBT Latinas are less likely than their white or straight peers to receive preventative health care. HHS cites a lack of screenings as one factor in creating these differences, and unsurprisingly, unequal access to health care as another.
But, thanks to Obamacare and with continued publicity about these new services, we can begin to decrease these disparities. In the past, insurance companies were allowed to charge higher premiums or deny individuals coverage if they were a cancer survivor – and, in fact, insurers in 45 states did just that. But starting in 2014 under the ACA, no one can be denied coverage for a preexisting condition! It means that continuous health care, without gaps due to illness, will be available, and families shouldn’t have to face bankruptcy because of mounting medical bills.
The new benefits under Obamacare go beyond cancer screenings and preventative well-woman visits though. They’re likely to help reduce the transmission and contraction of STIs by removing cost barriers for screening and counseling. When it comes to sexually transmitted infections and diseases, Latinas are four times more likely to have HIV/AIDS than non-Hispanic white women and Latinos are more than two times as likely to contract syphilis or gonorrhea than their white peers. But thanks to Obamacare, sexually active women will have access to free STI screenings and counseling.
The disparities continue with regards to pregnancy and prenatal care. From 2006-2008, 45 percent of Latinas reported experiencing an unintended pregnancies, nearly ten percentage points higher than their white counterparts. Some of these pregnancies can be linked to the limited access and affordability of birth control. However, thanks to Obamacare, insured women with a prescription for birth control can walk out of their pharmacies with their pills, Nuva Rings, Emergency Contraception, or any of the FDA-approved contraceptive methods- never once having opened their wallets. While cost isn’t the only barrier to birth control take-up, it surely stands as one limitation that Obamacare has dismissed.
We can celebrate cost-free prenatal care, too! The ACA and its new August 1 benefits will ensure pregnant women are covered for gestational diabetes screenings, breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling from licensed lactation counselors, and prenatal care—all without any co-pay. We’re hopeful that it can begin to decrease some of the disparities in prenatal care for Latinas specifically. A 2008 study by HHS found that while 71 percent of all women received prenatal care beginning in the first trimester of a pregnancy, only 64.7 percent of Hispanic women did.
Over here at Community Catalyst, we let out a quite a few cheers at the Supreme Court’s ruling to uphold Obamacare, and all these new forms of coverage. However, the more challenging part of the decision about Medicaid might have been a bit overshadowed. According to the Supreme Court, states can choose to expand their Medicaid coverage to include individuals making up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line. With this expansion, we can expect to see more low-income individuals and families receive health care, helping change the statistic that nearly one out of every three Hispanic/Latina woman does not have health insurance.
If state governors and legislatures elect to expand their Medicaid coverage per Obamacare’s allowance, more working class families and individuals—those making too much for current Medicaid eligibility requirements, but too little to actually afford their own health care—could become eligible for coverage and gain preventative care.
Take the time to celebrate these new benefits. But, if you live in a state where your governor has firmly refused to expand Medicaid coverage under the new Obamacare arrangements (we’re looking at you Florida, Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Mississippi, Wisconsin, just to name a few), or where your Governor has not come out firmly on one side or another on the Medicaid expansion, send a letter expressing your support for the expansion. If your governor has already committed to supporting greater Medicaid coverage, send a note of thanks (props to you, California, Washington, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota and Illinois).
And make sure to get out the word regarding the new expansions for women’s health care. While there may no longer be a co-pay for your annual visit to the gynecologist, women will continue to avoid making appointments for screenings, well-person check-ups, and even birth control coverage as long as they still think there’s a cost barrier. The law is only one step (one great step) in beginning to break down gender and racial disparities in health care.
– Emily Polak, State Advocacy Manager
Please note: The new preventive services for women went into effect on August 1. Most consumers will see the increase in services and coverage the next time their insurance plans are renewed.