What the Affordable Care Act Means for Women

Because of the Affordable Care Act, so many new and exciting and great things just happened for you. Beginning August 1st, insurance companies are going to be so much nicer about your body and all of the monies you have to spend to keep it healthy and happy and baby-free.

Here’s a list of things that just came into effect and how they’ll benefit you if you have health insurance: free annual well-woman visits, free birth control counseling and supplies, free gestational diabetes screening, free breastfeeding support and supplies, free STI screening and counseling, free cervical cancer testing and free screening and counseling for victims of domestic violence.

Did you notice how many times I just used the word free? Isn’t that fantastic? It’s like vaginas just won the lottery.

But here’s the fine print: all of these things are going to be free eventually, with some exclusions. If you have a new insurance program, or your end-of-year-cycle is August 1st, it may take some time. For example, if you just started paying for insurance for the first time last October, you will have to wait until October to get all of this awesome free stuff. If you are on your parent’s plan, and their end-of-the-cycle starts in November, you’ll have to wait until November. It may be a few months until you see these practical effects, but it is worth the wait. Some older plans will be “grandfathered” in, and you can read more about those stipulations at the healthcare.gov site.

Let’s go over some of the great, free things you’ll be getting and some of the weird monetary, religious or political stipulations that may prevent you from receiving these things. Know your rights!

Birth control. “All Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity” will be free. Let us rejoice! However, one minor factor that might affect you is that if there is a suitable generic version of the pill you are taking, your insurance company might try to convince you to take the generic pill, instead. Usually, this isn’t a big deal, but if you need the branded pill, you might have to pay cost sharing.

Religious employers are exempt from paying for your contraception coverage, but if that’s the case, your insurance company will be required to pay for your birth control free of charge.

STI screening. Counseling and screening for STIs (including HIV) will now be covered by your insurance. Also, screening for cervical cancer and HPV will be extended, including DNA tests for HPV in women over 30. Early screening is the best way to keep you healthy, so make sure you cash in on this.

Preventative care. Preventative care can include mammograms, colonoscopies, flu shots and well-baby and well-child visits. The best way to ensure you’ll get free preventative care is to schedule an appointment with a doctor in your network, and make sure that preventative care is the purpose of the appointment.

Well-woman visits. Your annual visits are now covered by your insurance, cost-free to you. The thrill of a good ol’ pap smear can now be enjoyed without worrying whether or not you’ll be able to pay for it. This also covers preconception and prenatal care. These visits can include preventative services, but you’ll want to make sure you know what you’ll be paying for if your doctor orders tests.

Pregnancy and Postpartum. The new policy requires plans to cover pregnancy counseling, screening and vaccines, as well as gestational diabetes screening in “pregnant women between 24 and 28 weeks of gestation and at the first prenatal visit for pregnant women identified to be at high risk for diabetes.” According to the HRSA Women’s Guidelines, your insurance will cover “comprehensive lactation support and counseling, by a trained provider during pregnancy and/or in the postpartum period, and costs for renting breastfeeding equipment.” Also, companies with 50 or more employees are now required to have time and private spaces for new mothers to pump.

Domestic Violence Support. According to the NCJW factsheet, “one in four women has been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner.” That’s appalling. This new policy includes screening and counseling to help women who have survived abuse by obtaining appropriate care and intervention to increase their safety.

Despite the flaws and confusing exceptions in and around this part of the Affordable Care Act, these all seem like pretty good things, right? In addition, the Affordable Care Act makes it illegal for insurance to charge women more because of these services. So, let’s all put our “Obamacare is Socialism” signs down and celebrate with some free and useful services.

Avatar of Hansen

Hansen is the DIY & Food Editor of Autostraddle.com and likes to spend most days making and cooking and writing. She is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Colorado State University in her free time.

Hansen has written 184 articles for us.

38 Comments

    • Thumb up 29

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      Lesbianism Testimony: “I’ve been on lesbianism* for about 6 years and I had ZERO pregnancy scares, IT REALLY WORKS.”

      *Lesbianism does not protect you from STIs, others risks include but not limited to: awkward coming out situations, messy break ups, ex problems and crying lots of crying.

    • Thumb up 3

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      True, but there are other reasons for taking birth control, like severe cramps (my main reason for taking it), ovarian cysts, acne prevention, etc. – depending on the pill.

      (Those are, incidentally, part of the reason why the annoying conservative argument of “but you can get the pill for $9 at Wal-Mart without insurance!” doesn’t work – the fact that women use it for different reasons means not every woman can use the cheapest available pill. But I digress…)

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          Exactly! Yay!

          Also one of the benefits of being on the pill for other reasons while a lesbian (or, in my case, a bi girl who is not currently with a dude) is that you don’t have to be as careful about taking it at the exact same time every single day. (At least, that’s what my doctor told me, it might not apply to some other pills/conditions.) For someone like me who is kind of forgetful about that stuff, that’s nice!

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        Exactly, my partner takes birth control to control ovarian cysts. She has to go to the ER when they burst because they put her in so much pain. So, I’m gonna say birth control is still pretty important to the lady loving ladies.

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          I remember that one of my Facebook friends started an event called “How I Became a Slut” (as a protest against Rush Limbaugh’s comments about Sandra Fluke) where all the women she knew who were on birth control shared when we started taking it and why. Even though most of the women were straight, the vast majority of them regardless of sexual orientation were taking it for something else in addition to or instead of the birth-control aspects. The notion that women should just be able to make do with the cheapest available brand that doesn’t address all these issues is ludicrous and shows how much the War on Women really is that – since it’s founded on a basic lack of understanding or respect for women.

  1. Thumb up 5

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    I’m really, really excited about these changes–hell yeah to more affordable healthcare services– and I’d really like to see an article about how these changes might/will affect trans* folks!

  2. Thumb up 4

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    I’m not going into it again, but I’ve made it clear that my problem with this isn’t that I think it’s too Socialist, but that it’s too Corporatist and not nearly Socialist enough.

    But, I’m glad for anyone who’s life is improved by it. Things are so tough right now we need all the help we can get.

    • Thumb up 2

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      this times a million. And I hate it when people say “well, it’s better than nothing” because that’s just stupid. We should have pushed harder for what we really needed instead of accepting this watered down version.

  3. Thumb up 1

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    Okay so I have a question:

    What do they mean by “suitable” generic version? Does “suitable” mean taking into account people who use birth control for other reasons besides the baby-preventing part? So if you’re taking it for cramps or ovarian cysts they’ll realize a cheap generic that doesn’t take care of that issue is not “suitable.”

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      In Australia, you only get the generic if it is literally the exact same thing, just in different packaging. It might just be a slightly bigger tablet, or not have a sugar coating or something. So hopefully it’s the same for you!

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      The generic version of a drug exactly the same drug as the brand-name drug(with an equal chemical formula), but cheaper because it is not made by a specific pharmaceutical company. Therefore it is not in any way less effective. Pharmaceutical companies will make deals with doctors and hospitals, because they want them to prescribe their more expensive version so they will make more money: This is not to the benefit of the patients.

      However if you take your birth control pills for another reason than birth control, or if the regular pills give you side-effects, there is a possibility that you are getting a pill that doesn’t have a generic version available yet. Your doctor should be able to explain this to you if this is indeed the case.

      So basically IMO getting the generic drug is a good thing, because it lowers health care costs:).

      • Thumb up 0

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        Okay, that’s what I thought the “generic” version of a drug meant (for one of my other drugs I take I use the generic rather than the brand, which saves me a fuckload of money) but the way it was worded sounded more like “the cheap brand of birth control you can get anywhere” vs. “the more expensive kind that takes care of specific problems.”

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          To prescribe a pill for a condition that is not affected by that pill would seem not only unethical, but also a waste of money to me. Thankfully there is much research done over these topics, so the evidence that some pills don’t help for some problems is undeniable. Therefore I don’t think a doctor would knowingly prescribe the wrong pill (there are also clear drug guidelines for each medical indication). And as the pills are being reimbursed as prescribed, this should not become an issue. At least, that is what I hope!

  4. Thumb up 5

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    I think it’s funny that you keep referring to all these services as “free” when the average cost for private health insurance for women is something like 183 dollars a month. And more and more employers are only hiring people part time so they don’t have to give health insurance benefits.

    Also, when are they going to stop seeing women as more than just vagina/baby making machines? It’s great that all these reproductive health services are being made more available, but forget about going to a GP or a mental health provider.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for Obama, but this health care plan does not go far enough to give fair and accessible health care to everyone. Yet now that it is here, we are unlikely to get what we really need, which is a true publicly funded health care system like in Canada or Europe.

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      When they have been things I’ve personally had to pay for previously, I definitely consider them free. That $183/month figure is for something like Cobra or other independent private health insurance. The average last year for an individual was $75/month when provided through an employer. I’ve found that more employers are hiring full time people because the need is there (at least where I live).

      I think this is just the first step towards getting something more similar to what Canada or Europe currently has. It will take a lot of work and change to get there.

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        I did say that figure was for private insurance. And I’m job searching right now (I work in youth development) and believe me there are few employers in that field willing to hire full time.

        Not to mention all the people who maybe don’t want a 9-5 corporate type job, like writers or artists. Do they not deserve health insurance?

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          I know you did, I was just adding to it. I also only put in my experience job searching and living as a freelance writer/graphic designer. I left my corporate retail job to be a freelancer and you’re preaching to the choir in that respect. My partner and I wish we could afford/have health insurance, as we’re both freelancers.

  5. Thumb up 1

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    GAAAHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! this topic jus pisses me off so much! I love that finally women are getting access to more affordable healthcare, but i cant stand when i turn on my tv and hear uber conservative religious republicans ranting about how this is ifringing on the 1st amendment right to religious freedom. so what if employers HAVE to OFFER the birth control aspect of this its not like women are being FORCED to take contraceptives. idk about you but id rather pay for this which will benefit MILLIONS of women than have my tax dollars funding all the Wellfare and WIC babies and families.

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      Please tell me more about your tax dollars funding “all the Welfare and WIC babies and families.” I particularly await your enlightened comments on the current state of TANF. Please address the family cap rule! I wait with bated breath.

        • Thumb up 2

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          I’ve never actually heard anyone be okay with healthcare reform and against WIC all in one breath. You can usually bury healthcare reform in enough bitching that people don’t think you’re awful, and enough people still believe a lot of stupid, outdated (and often racist!) crap about TANF, but being against feeding nutritionally at risk pregnant women and child under five is just, woah. It’s like being against Headstart- damn low income families and trying to reduce future educational disparities through an adequate 3-5 education!

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    It would be really helpful for trans* readers if articles like this would factor in our existence and describe who these laws actually apply to rather than just zeroing in on what applies to cis women and treating us as an afterthought.

    For example, if you say “free STI screenings for women” it creates the impression that you’re actually just referring to CIS women, since the government tends to view trans women and other DMAB trans people as “men”.

    It’s important to remember that trans* women have to navigate a system where sometimes we’re considered women and sometimes we’re considered men, and these situations vary depending on the individual’s legal gender status and current place in transition.

    In this case, some of the benefits listed apply to everyone regardless of gender, so why do you unnecessarily specify them as being “for women”? This creates unnecessary confusion and forces people like me to go on a Google scavenger hunt to try and figure out whether any of this shit actually applies to me.

    So for the record, PEOPLE, woman or not, get free STI screenings with no co-pay.

    Please remember that every time you act as though cisgender people are the human default you cast all trans* people as a deviation from that norm, and in doing so you uphold cisgender supremacy and validate the erasure of the trans* community (as well as the intersex community).

    • Thumb up 3

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      I apologize that I made you feel this way. I’m new here, so please chalk it up to inexperience rather than erasure. In the future, I’ll be more conscious of this fact, I assure you. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

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        For what it’s worth, I get blindsided all the time, too – cheerfully bopping along through life, caught flat-footed when institutions decide that my legal/medical sex is a capital-”I” Issue in various unforseen ways. So even trans people can get surprised by some of the stuff that we need specific information on.

        Thanks for the article!

      • Thumb up 1

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        Goodness the article is about What the Affordable Care Act means for Women. It sucks that you feel left out, but reproductive health doesn’t apply to you, and the STI screenings are universally understood to apply to both sexes. I imagine the phrasing was just consistent with the title. The soap box is getting old. Although I expected at some point somebody would show up and say “Noooo stop talking about those things women have been doing for years because it makes me feel things about my gender identity.” You know sometimes I feel left out when the writers talk about sunburn because I am African American and I don’t sunburn, but I don’t complain that they ought to stop talking about it because I can’t have it too. Trans* individuals want you to properly gender them, she said Women,so if you call yourself a woman you are included. Half the services will never apply to you but the ones that do are insinuated. Can we stop apologizing please?

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          As Kayla explained, the problem is that when a government agency or a bureaucratic institution says “women”, trans women have no idea whether we will be included – maybe yes, maybe no, most likely it will be left to the snap judgement of a confused and possibly hostile minor functionary. So what she was left wondering is, “Do you mean ‘women’ like Autostraddlers mean ‘women’, or did you forget to translate from governmentese and use ‘women’ like bureaucracies use ‘women’?” That’s why it helps to know that some of the services aren’t sex-specific at all.

          I’ll be interested to know whether mammograms will be covered for me, but frankly I can’t tell from the online documentation. I don’t expect Hansen to figure that one out, though; it’s probably unknowable right up to the point of getting an insurance company’s rejection.

          Incidentally, melanin is awesome but unfortunately not 100% sunburn and skin cancer protection, so don’t let your guard down totally on that front.

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      I’m sorry that you have to stand up and point these things out so often because I know how draining it is, but I am so thankful that you do because the CIS women here have no intention of excluding you. They only do so because they don’t realize that what they’re saying isn’t inclusive, and now because you’ve explained it everyone has a greater understanding of how to talk about these subjects in the future. I’m grateful for you, because if it wasn’t for people like you trans* erasure would be getting worse, and not better.

  7. Thumb up 1

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    Dear everyone in America

    I really hate to sound uneducated but I don’t understand your national health care system, like here we have the NHS and everything in the history of medical stuff ever including breast implants are free.
    like if one of you filthy minx’s had a life threatening affliction and no medical insurance would they pretty much leave you to die?

    your country confuses and scares me.

    Concerned friend.

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