Women’s week of action…all year long

Later this month, the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN) will be participating in a women’s week of action to let uninsured women know that they can get help paying for insurance. During Open Enrollment season, people who don’t have insurance can shop for affordable plans via the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces. Over 10 million people are eligible, but haven’t gotten covered yet. Most of them would be able to find an insurance plan that’s right for them in terms of price and coverage, but they have to act quickly. The deadline for signing up for coverage is January 31, 2016.

Why hold a women’s week of action? To be honest, it’s because Congress won’t let the Federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) do the outreach and education needed to help people get covered. That’s right, even though HHS runs the Federal www.healthcare.gov website, where millions of people shop and sign up for coverage, the agency lacks the resources to reach people who still haven’t signed up. Congress won’t give HHS the needed funds. So the Federal government has turned to folks like us — women’s organizations, consumer advocacy groups, associations of health professionals, and civil rights organizations — to reach the uninsured. We use our grassroots networks, and the trust we’ve built up in our communities, to reach people with practical information and encouragement to sign up for coverage.

Through our Raising Women’s Voices initiative, we’ve connected with thousands of women and helped them understand how to sign up and use their new coverage. Read the “NWHN in Action” article for more information about these efforts, and our new health literacy tool, My Health, My Voice: A Woman’s Step-by-Step Guide to Using Health Insurance. If you’d like to get involved in the January 18 – 24th women’s week of action, visit the RWV website to learn more (www.RaisingWomensVoices.net).

Planning for the women’s week of action on health insurance makes me think about how badly we need women’s weeks of action all year long, not just during Open Enrollment season. Women are facing threats and challenges to their health on many fronts, perhaps most dramatically from the threat of pervasive violence. The horrific shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is just the latest example of the violence perpetrated by right-wing extremism. Its terrible that we need action to make changes so women and other vulnerable people aren’t targeted for violence because of who they are, what they look like, who they are in a relationship with, where they were born, or what kind of health care services they seek.

And, unfortunately, we also have to address threats that come from legal efforts to restrict women’s access to health care. In Christina Cherel’s article about the challenges to reproductive rights in 2016, she explains that the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing yet another challenge to the ACA. The cases, known as Zubik v. Burwell, have been brought by religiously-affiliated non-profits. The employers in these cases are seeking a religious exemption from a law that guarantees that employees will receive contraception coverage through their health insurance. If the employers win, their employees will be denied a benefit guaranteed by law just because of their bosses’ political views. The Court is expected to hear oral arguments in late March and to issue its decision by the end of June, 2016. The NWHN will definitely be active on this issue next year, so the Court knows how important contraceptive coverage is for women’s health and women’s lives.

Christina describes the reproductive rights environment for this year, and, of course, there’s another big event occurring in 2016 that will have an impact — the elections. We are encouraging all of our supporters to pay close attention to what candidates at all levels have to say about women’s rights, women’s health (including reproductive health), and access to health care. Right now, we’re hearing a lot from the various Presidential candidates — and there are a lot of candidates. As the election season continues to heat up throughout the year, we’ll also start to hear from candidates who are running for state and federal offices. All of those people have the power to affect our health, so it’s important to pay attention, get involved, and let the candidates know that you want policies that support good health for everyone.

We’ll keep you informed throughout the year on all of these developments.

Cindy Pearson was the NWHN’s Executive Director from 1996 to 2021. One of the nation’s leading advocates for women’s health, Cindy often testified before Congress,  NIH and the FDA and was frequently featured in the news as a consumer expert on women’s health issues. When she retired, Cindy received a Congressional Resolution in honor of her outstanding contributions to the health of women and girls.