No to Co-Pays, Yes to Listening to Women! 

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The Women's Health Activist
September/October 2011

 By Cynthia Pearson

How many times have you stood at the pharmacist’s counter and felt that “ouch” when you find out what your co-pay will be? Or been told that you’ll have to pay the full cost of an exam because you haven’t met your annual deductible, and then decided to put off your check-up because you couldn’t afford it? 

These additional fees are often a barrier to care, even for those of us who are lucky enough to have health insurance. And, while co-pays and deductibles can be hard for everyone, they’re especially hard for women, who typically pay more for health insurance than men. While a few women’s services have been exempted from co-pays recently, women still pay out-of-pocket for check-ups, screening, and counseling services. Contrast that with well-child exams and vaccinations: everyone agrees it saves money in the long run to eliminate barriers to children getting preventive care, so those services have traditionally been covered whether or not the family’s deductible has been met.

Now there’s good news for women! The Secretary of Health and Human Services,  Kathleen Sebelius, recently announced that, as of August 1, 2012, all new health insurance plans will be required to cover women’s preventive health services without charging any additional fees. The services that will be required to be covered for no extra fees include comprehensive contraceptive care, screening for gestational diabetes, breastfeeding counseling and supplies, screening and counseling for intimate partner violence, screening for sexually transmitted infections, and well-woman preventive care visits. The Secretary’s decision finally puts women’s preventive health on par with childrens’ and men’s — and we owe her a big thank you.

But we know that the Secretary’s decision, while bolstered by solid science (and a 240-page report from the Institute of Medicine on the value of preventive care for women), comes as a response to the voices of those who’ve spoken out over and over again on behalf of women’s health. This announcement is a victory for women’s health advocates, including women who insisted that their voices be heard at the 1970 Senate Pill hearings; women who wrote ground-breaking articles for this newsletter in the 1980s explaining that domestic violence is a health care issue; women who made formula companies stop giving every new mother free formula; women who insisted that the brand-new disease, AIDS, was a woman’s issue, too; and women who invented the term “well-woman exam”.  This victory is all of our victory.  Thanks — and congratulations!  For more about the decision, see the Women’s Health Preventive Services Information Central page on the Raising Women’s Voices website, at www.raisingwomensvoices.net.