On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) announced historic new guidelines that will allow women to access important preventive health services as part of the Affordable Care Act. This afternoon, I joined Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, on a conference call with several women’s, youth and health organizations where we discussed the new ruling and its impact on America’s women, girls and families.
We all know that women and men face different sets of health risks, which require different systems of care and coverage. Before Friday’s ruling, however, preventive services for women had been only been recommended one-by-one, or as part of guidelines targeted toward men as well.
To correct this problem, HHS directed the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to conduct a detailed review of women’s preventative healthcare. It’s important to note that the IOM is an independent organization, and relied on independent doctors, scientists, and experts to reach conclusions based on scientific evidence.
In addition to the benefits for women already included in the Affordable Care Act, such as coverage of maternity benefits, the new guidelines will help women meet their unique health needs. Beginning August 1, 2012, additional women’s preventive services that will be covered with no cost sharing in new health plans include:
- Well-woman visits
- Gestational diabetes
- Breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling
- Domestic violence screening
- Contraception and contraceptive counseling
- HPV DNA testing
- STI counseling, and HIV screening and counseling
These preventive services help women stay healthy, and because they enhance long-term detection and treatment, they also reduce long-term health costs.
As the chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, I am incredibly proud that the Affordable Care Act will help all women receive the preventive services they need. The Council also recognizes that women’s issues do not exclusively affect women. They have an impact on the entire family. When more women are able to stay healthy, it means more parents will be able to care for their children, and more caregivers will be able to support elderly relatives. It also means a more productive workforce, which will benefit employers and employees alike.
President Obama has said that his mother taught him that, “you can tell how far a society is going to go by how it treats its women and girls. And if they’re doing well, then the society is going to do well; and if they’re not, then they won’t be.” With that principle in mind, these new guidelines for women’s preventative health are a crucial step forward for the health of our citizens, and for our society as a whole.
Valerie Jarrett is Senior Advisor to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls