Reaction by women's groups and promoters of health reform to this morning's Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was swift and laudatory, though numerous leaders also pointed the gaps that remain to be filled.
In a statement, Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said:
Today’s Supreme Court decision allows the nation to reap the very substantial benefits of the Affordable Care Act: health insurance coverage for millions of uninsured Americans, important consumer protections for millions of insured Americans whose coverage has serious gaps, and the promise of progress in slowing the growth of health care costs.Still, Greenstein noted, "for both states and the federal government, much work lies ahead to establish health insurance exchanges, set up enrollment processes that work smoothly both for the exchanges and Medicaid, and complete other critical tasks by the 2014 deadline. The timeframe is short, particularly in states that have made little progress since the law’s passage."
Women's groups were particularly relieved at the positive outcome of the SCOTUS decision, because, on the whole, the ACA has been considered a huge advancement in coverage of preventive and other forms of care often out of reach of women, who make less than men overall throughout their lives, and who, as they enter retirement, are more likely to be poor.
The decision will have a “profound and concrete impact” on millions of people’s lives, Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) said today in a statement. Calling the Affordable Care Act “the greatest advance in women’s health in a generation,” PPFA said the law will:
"provide access to birth control and cancer screenings without co-pays, guaranteed direct access to OB/GYN providers without referrals, and an end to discriminatory practices against women, such as charging women higher premiums and denying coverage for “pre-existing conditions.”In addition, noted the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) millions of women and their families can rest assured they will no longer be denied health coverage for having survived domestic violence or rape, or having had a Caesarean section, that maternity care will be included in all health care plans, and that tens of millions of women will gain financial access to coverage, whether through Medicaid or through help with insurance premiums.
Key benefits of the law that have already been realized, according to PPFA, include the following:
- More than 45 million women have already received coverage for preventive health screenings at no cost since August 2010 – including mammograms and Pap tests – and millions more will be able to get free screenings in the coming years.
- More than 3 million young adults have been able to stay on their parents’ insurance plan under the ACA to date, and in the next year, millions more who would have otherwise lost coverage will continue to be insured under their parents’ plan.
- Women are guaranteed direct access to OB/GYN providers without a referral, as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
- Starting in August, birth control will be treated like any other preventive prescription under the Affordable Care Act, and will be available without co-pays or deductibles.
Health care providers that focus on family planning increasingly contract with private insurance companies. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 33 percent of all family planning providers now contract with private insurers – and 49 percent of Planned Parenthood health centers have contracts with private insurance companies.With this decision, "we are closer than ever to realizing the promise of health care for all," said Cecile Richards, president of PPFA.
The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) likewise applauded the decision as "a significant victory for Latinas, who are more likely than other groups to face structural barriers that prevent them from accessing health care and preventive services."
“Latinas have historically faced a disproportionate number of barriers to basic health care, and we can now envision a future where those barriers begin to crumble,” said NLIRH executive director Jessica González-Rojas. “Everyone has a fundamental right to quality, affordable health care. Today’s Supreme Court decision is an important step toward making that right a reality.”Gonzales noted that, since it took effect, the ACA has already helped more than 736,000 young Latino/as retain health care coverage under their parents’ plans until they reach the age of 26, and has eliminated discrimination by health insurers against children with pre-existing conditions. In the coming months and years, she continued:
"ACA provisions will expand access to life-saving cervical cancer screenings and other preventive health services, increase support for community health centers and increase Medicaid coverage. Beginning in August, the ACA also provides access to contraception without expensive co-pays, ensuring that every woman can plan the timing and spacing of her children."“The Affordable Care Act is a breakthrough in access to health care for Latinas,” said González-Rojas. “Today’s Supreme Court decision ensures that Latinas can make the healthiest decisions for themselves and their families.”
But, while the gains achieved in the ACA are a step in the right direction, Gonzales notes, much work remains to be done.
The law leaves many immigrants without access to essential care. In addition, opponents of expanded health care access continue to launch attacks on numerous benefits included in the law, particularly on the provision for contraception without co-pays. The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health will continue to advocate for solutions that close these gaps in health care.However, at least one group, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, made clear it would continue to fight to prevent women from accessing affordable reproductive health care under the ACA, using the same specious arguments it has made all along.
In short, today's decision was a huge step forward, but in reality just that... a step forward in an ongoing effort toward ensuring access to affordable health care for all.