The Affordable Care Act: Expanding Access to Cervical Health Care

This article is cross-posted from Raising Women’s Voices (RWV) and is published as part of a series on cervical cancer in partnership with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.

See all our coverage of Cervical Cancer Awareness Month 2012 here.

My cervix is excited for 2012 and yours should be too! The Affordable Care Act (ACA), despite its tender age of not-even-two, has and will continue to uphold its promise to provide more women with the quality affordable care we need to stay healthy and cervical health is no exception. 

In honor of cervical cancer awareness month, thank YOU Affordable Care Act, for helping cervixes stay healthy!

We know cervical cancer rates, with timely screenings, can be significantly reduced – introducing screening programs to populations naïve to screening reduces cervical cancer rates by 60 percent to 90 percent within three years of implementation.  This is a considerable reduction in cervical cancer rates, meaning when women have access to the health care they need, they stay healthy.  We also know that without those screenings and early detection, women face dire consequences – 85 percent of women who die from cervical cancer were never screened.

Preventive care services, like cervical cancer screenings, are critical to women because they allow us to monitor our health and catch illnesses before becoming catastrophic.  Regrettably, women are less likely than men to access these services due to cost.  Even small co-pays can dramatically reduce a woman’s ability to obtain preventive care.  A study by the Commonwealth Fund reported that in 2009, more than half of women delayed or avoided preventive care because of its cost.  This financial barrier has contributed to the dangerously high rates of cervical cancer and consequential high rates of mortality in some communities, particularly with women of color who don’t have good access to timely screenings and effective treatments.  Vietnamese American women experience a five times higher rate of cervical cancer than white women, and Korean American and Latina women have twice the rate of white women. In addition, black women diagnosed with cervical cancer are twice as likely as white women diagnosed to die from it. 

Two important provisions of the ACA have the potential to decrease these alarming rates of cervical cancer by eliminating the burden of cost-sharing for preventive health screenings for women.  The first has already taken effect, and women are already benefiting from it!  Starting on January 1, 2011, the ACA required Medicare to provide cervical cancer screenings without cost-sharing to the 22 million women who get health care through the Medicare program.  The second will extend similar protections – and more — to women with private health insurance.  The ACA requires private insurers to cover preventive care services specific to women, including cervical cancer screenings, without any extra charges or co-pays starting as soon as August 2012.  This part of the law will help more women access not only cervical cancer screenings, but a full complement of the preventive health services women need to stay healthy.

We know that eliminating cost sharing is an essential element in ensuring that women are able to access the services we need.  So, from my cervix and millions of others, thank you ACA for upholding your promise to provide us with the health care we need to stay healthy!

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