Almost 13 million American women between the ages of 15 and 44 didn’t have health insurance in 2012, according to a new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute. When that demographic is broken down by economic status, nearly one in four women living below the poverty line didn’t have health care that year.
That’s especially problematic because uninsured women in that age group may not have any way to access affordable family planning services — especially if they’re living in poverty. Over the past decade, unintended pregnancies have become increasingly concentrated among low-income women who can’t afford birth control. The United States also has some of the highest rates of teen pregnancies and first-day infant deaths in the developed world, and women’s health experts say that’s largely due to the gaps in access to family planning services.
“These bleak statistics not only underscore the urgent and ongoing need for safety-net programs such as the Title X national family planning program, they also demonstrate the significant potential gains to be made as the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of public and private insurance coverage gets underway,” the Guttmacher researchers note.
Fortunately, several key components of the Affordable Care Act will ensure that women have better access to health insurance in the coming year. Obamacare will extend coverage to additional low-income Americans through its state-level expansion of the Medicaid program, as well as give federal subsidies to uninsured Americans to help them purchase plans on new insurance marketplaces.
And once more women gain insurance, they’ll also have better benefits to suit their reproductive needs. Obamacare requires insurers to cover a range of gender-specific preventative services — like contraception, cancer screenings, HPV vaccinations, maternity care, and well-woman check ups — at no additional charge. The health law’s birth control provision has been in place for a little over a year by now, and an estimated 27 million women are already benefiting from it.
Without Obamacare, the cost barriers to contraception can be prohibitive for many women. One study conducted in 2012 found that nearly half of young women admitted they hadn’t used their birth control method as directed in order to cut down on expenses. And the most effective forms of long-lasting contraception were out of reach for many women because they can cost hundreds of dollars out of pocket. Problematically, birth control can actually be more expensive in low-income areas.
But even as the federal health reform law is making big gains in this area, that’s not necessarily the case when it comes to state policies. State-level family planning programs have been subject to huge cuts in recent years, as Republican lawmakers have slashed women’s health funding in at least ten different states.