"This is the single most important piece of legislation in our lifetime," one advocate claimed last month during a conference call in which legislators, healthcare providers, and women's advocates celebrated the start of free preventive services for women under President Obama's Affordable Care Act, or ACA. "It's a new day for women"" agreed the website www.HealthCare.gov.
And indeed it was. Eight new important prevention-related services became effective this month that will have a profound and sometimes life-saving effect on women and their health status. Well-women visits will be covered by insurance. There will be no-cost birth control, support for breastfeeding equipment and domestic violence screening and counseling, and screening for sexually transmitted diseases. Many women will now have access to preventive care or early treatment for chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes. Mammograms and colonoscopies will become available as will some vaccines.
Who could possibly be against that? Well, disregarding the hideously insensitive Todd Akin (R-Missouri) who thinks rape can be categorized, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fl) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) come to mind as two of several legislators who aren't happy that women might finally be gaining control over their health care. In February, they introduced a bill that would allow any corporation or other entity or any individual to refuse to provide contraceptive coverage and related services on the basis of undefined religious beliefs or moral convictions. The bill would abrogate the rights of about 47 million women newly eligible for the preventive services now available through ACA which, by the way, includes an exception from the contraceptive coverage requirement for specific religious entities.
Effectively the Rubio-Manchin bill (S.2092) means that women would have to get their employer's permission to practice birth control. Nevermind that women would be forced to bear higher health care costs, or that they would be exposed to a variety of physical, emotional and economic consequences associated with pregnancy. Forget about the fact that planned pregnancies can prevent a range of complications that might ensue from gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, or placental problems. Or that contraception is also used to regulate cycles and ameliorate painful endometriosis.
"Birth control is a toxic topic," Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) said during the August conference call. "But we will not allow them to repeal it. Yes, it's Obamacare, because the president cares, about women and their families," she added. One male caller agreed. "My mother died for lack of tests," he said. "Now my son and his wife are a young couple. They need birth control but can't afford it." Then another man spoke up. "I'm a husband and the more and more I know about ACA the more I like it. It's a great thing for the country."
In a July 31 Huffington Post blog Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius wrote, "Women's health decisions shouldn't be made by politicians or insurance companies. Rather than wasting time refighting old political battles, [we're] " putting women in control of their own health care. If women are going to take care of their families and friends, they have to take care of themselves. The Affordable Care Act is making it easier for women to do that by making health care more accessible and affordable for millions of American women and families."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) agrees. "Putting ideology ahead of science is inexplicable," he said. "Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, by 2014, almost 19 million uninsured women will be eligible for comprehensive health coverage, women may no longer be charged more for the same policy as men, and women cannot be denied coverage because they have a pre-existing condition. Asking American women to continue denying themselves the care they need is unacceptable."
Yes, it is unacceptable. I hope voters will remember that come Election Day. Just to be sure, I agree with Barbara Mikulski. It's important that women, and the men who love them, "speak up and speak out. We need your stories to be told." Men like Marco Rubio and Joe Manchin especially need to be told. And they need to listen.