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USA Today: Pelosi, Sebelius: A new day for women's preventive care

By Nancy Pelosi and Kathleen Sebelius

Starting Wednesday, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, all new insurance policies will be required to cover the vital care women need to stay healthy without charging a fee to the patient. As a result, millions of women will soon be able to walk into their doctor's office and get preventive services such as an annual well-woman visit without paying a dollar out of pocket.

Women are likely to be the health care decision-makers for their families -- whether it's keeping a child up to date on checkups and immunizations, helping an elderly parent stay on a medication regimen, or finding the extra money in the family budget to pay for insurance.

Too often, those women put their own health last. And that can be especially true when it comes to preventive care -- the regular checkups and screenings that are so important to staying healthy, but can be easy to put off.

What made it worse is that, before Wednesday, many plans didn't even cover basic women's preventive care. Others charged such high co-payments for key preventive services that women went without them altogether. In total, more than half of women delayed or avoided necessary care because of its cost.

Shift in coverage

That's simply not right, and thanks to the health care law, it's changing. Beginning Wednesday, all new insurance plans will be required to cover additional services and screenings for women without cost to the patient. These include services that are essential to helping women stay healthy -- such as domestic violence screening, FDA-approved contraception, breastfeeding support and supplies, gestational diabetes screening, HPV testing, sexually transmitted infection counseling, and HIV screening. That's on top of other potentially life-saving services such as cholesterol screenings and flu shots that many private plans and Medicare have already begun covering with no co-pay thanks to the law.

We've spoken to many women over the years who say: 'I wish I didn't wait to get my mammogram, but money was so tight.' Or: 'I know I need my osteoporosis screening, but I'll have to get by without it for now.' Far too often, when they did make it to the doctor, a small health problem had become a big one.

No more delays

Thanks to the health care law, women will no longer have to put off prevention. No woman should have to choose between seeing her doctor and putting food on the table for her family. Now, many women won't have to make that choice. And soon, women will see even more protections.

In the past, insurance companies could deny women coverage because of anything from being a breast cancer survivor to being pregnant to being a victim of domestic violence. And if we did find coverage, insurers could charge women up to 50% more than men just for being women, even though the plans often didn't cover basic women's health care such as maternity care. One study found that this discrimination cost women $1 billion a year.

So under the health care law, we're banning discrimination against women in the insurance market. In 2014, it will be illegal to deny coverage to someone because of her health status. And it will also be illegal to charge women more than men just because they're women. In other words, being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition.

For too long, insurance companies stacked the deck against women, forcing us to pay more for coverage that didn't meet our needs. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, a new day for women's health has arrived.