by Carole Levine, NCJW vice president
Every time I visit my doctor, I am charged a $20 co-pay. It used to be $10 and at one point, there was no co-pay. When I think about the number of times I pay this amount to see my family practitioner and other doctors, I realize that these dollars add up. Fortunately, I can afford this, but there were times when I could not. I know that for many, many women, that $20 will keep them away because it is needed for food, rent or child care.
For too long, costs associated with health care have kept women from the preventive services they need. The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) has been a staunch advocate for preventive care for all women. We know that expanding preventive services for women will have a positive ripple effect across generations and systems; when women are healthy and receive preventive care, their families, their employers and their communities benefit.
And we’re in luck, because beginning August 1, women will not have co-pays associated with seven preventive health care services, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA, the 2010 health reform law). The new benefits will help women across their lifespan; for the full list of services, see NCJW’s infographic and fact sheet. The value of extending preventive care will more than pay for itself, with better health outcomes and greater economic security for women and their families. Women will be able to afford the care they need, rather than foregoing or delaying care, which often exacerbates existing health problems leading to more expensive emergency services or additional doctors’ visits.
One of these seven services — birth control — has sparked great controversy and, in some religious sectors, outrage at what they see as the government’s interference in religious liberty. As an NCJW member, I see this as just the opposite. Access to all approved contraceptive methods, along with the education to use them correctly, provides a woman with the ability to make the best healthcare decisions for herself within the dictates of her own religious convictions, her own conscience, and the needs of her family. But it is this example of individual religious liberty that has been vilified by some religious leaders and lawmakers opposed to contraception.
How strange that an employer or religious institution might be allowed to dictate the most personal and individual decision that a woman can make. How sad that there are those who say that where one works should determine what individual rights they are entitled to exercise. How extraordinary that many of these institutions are led by men, and that, even in Congress, a debate was had over this issue that specifically excluded the thoughts and wisdom of the women whose access to care they seek to limit.
Thanks to the ACA and the decision by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to require insurance plans to cover contraception without co-pays, insured women from every income category will have access to birth control options that work best for them. And while I’m disappointed that some women — those employed by houses of worship — will not have access to this benefit, the administration’s accommodation of faith-based institutions will ensure that women employed by religiously affiliated hospitals, social service agencies, and other organizations won’t have to leave their religious liberty at home when they go to work each day. Women will make their own health care decisions.
As I reflect on the generations of women in my own family, from my 97 year old mother-in-law to my one-year old granddaughter, I am proud to support the Affordable Care Act, knowing that all of our generations will not only be ensured of the preventive care needed, but will have the options to make their own personal and religiously informed choices in accessing that care. When given options, women make good choices for themselves and their families. For nearly 120 years, National Council of Jewish Women has been advocating for the rights of women, children and families— and on August 1, NCJW will celebrate a step forward that will secure those rights for generations to come. It will, indeed, be a time to celebrate and I will be right there to join in.