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Saturday, Apr 07 2012 11:05 PM

Affordable Care Act a leap forward for women

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    Cate Edwards

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By CATE EDWARDS

The Supreme Court is again at the center of a highly controversial policy debate, having just heard arguments for the Affordable Care Act. There's been much discussion about the justices' supposed political agendas. I've heard fear-mongering about government takeovers and rumors of increased business costs.

But I haven't heard much about what's really at stake: the welfare of the American people -- specifically women. Women like my mother and the other mothers, wives, sisters and daughters who need preventive services to ensure that they are healthy.

Our Constitution was created to "promote the general welfare." So a court that strikes down the health care law would not only shirk its constitutional responsibility, it would unduly injure the welfare of American women.

My mother, using everything from blog posts to congressional testimony, challenged this country to translate the Constitution's focus on each American's welfare into health reform.

"Can't we start with something easy on which we can agree," she asked in 2008. "That no one should die of a disease we can find and stop?" The Affordable Care Act not only protects women with pre-existing conditions like breast cancer -- it guarantees women access to preventive services.

Before health care reform, insurance companies could legally deny women coverage because they had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Without it, the more than 225,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer each year could be denied lifesaving coverage.

It isn't just breast cancer. In 2011, at least 19 million American women between the ages of 18 and 64 were uninsured and 129 million non-elderly Americans had some type of pre-existing condition, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. The new health care law guarantees coverage for every American -- regardless of whether they have a pre-existing condition. That is promoting the welfare of women.

The health reform law also confronts the problem that causes more than half of all women to delay medical care: the high cost.

Women are disproportionately affected by high preventive care costs. Because women typically have lower wages than men, they are more likely to sacrifice getting the care they need because of the cost. But now insurance must -- by law -- provide preventive care free of charge.

We know that early and regular cancer screenings are lifesaving, yet still 50 percent of women over 40 did not get screened for breast cancer between 2006 and 2009. Women who once would put off a mammogram because of its high cost now can get that screening without a copayment. Mammograms reduce the emotional and financial burden of breast cancer by saving lives and helping women avoid the most invasive treatments.

And the cost of treatment makes a difference: The rate of women getting mammograms increased by 9 percent when women did not have to pay out of pocket. More than 20 million women have already taken advantage of the new guarantee to preventive services. That is promoting the welfare of women.

The health care law does not stop there. It is now illegal for insurance companies to charge women more than men for the same coverage. Women have been charged up to 150 percent more than men. That is promoting the welfare of women.

The Affordable Care Act has done more to expand women's access to health care than any other piece of legislation in more than 50 years. It allows women to make health care choices based solely on what is best. Without this law, women may not get the preventive care, early detection tests or cancer treatments that they need.

And it's not just these women whose lives could be devastated by limited health care. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives. Women can now get the health care they need to stay healthy and alive -- for themselves and their families.

That is promoting the general welfare.

Cate Edwards is the president of the Elizabeth Edwards Foundation and an attorney at Advocates for Justice. She is the daughter of former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., and the late Elizabeth Edwards.

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