Our guest blogger is Andrew Cray, health policy consultant for LGBT Progress.
Yesterday, several representatives from the Department of Health and Human Services, including Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, marked a “brand new day for women’s health.” August 1st marks the date when a women’s health regulation implementing Obamacare will guarantee coverage for preventive health services without out-of-pocket-costs – including contraception coverage – for 47 million women in the United States. These rules require insurers to offer coverage for these services at no additional cost at the next plan renewal date falling on or after August 1, 2012. This landmark policy not only puts women and their health care providers – rather than insurance companies – in control of their own health, but it also signifies a major new focus on eliminating the health disparities that affect women, including lesbian and bisexual women.
Several of the services made more accessible through the regulation may have particular benefits for lesbian and bisexual women:
- Annual well-woman visits: Lesbian and bisexual women are at increased risk for several serious health conditions, including breast and other cancers. Other studies show that lesbian women undergo routine pap testing less often than advised by national guidelines, and bisexual women have the highest rate of never having a pap test. These visits will help women access preventive services that are appropriate for their health needs.
- DNA testing for the human papilloma virus (HPV) for women over 30: Compared to heterosexual women, lesbian and bisexual women may be at increased risk for HPV due to risk factors associated with poorer overall health and a lack of access to appropriate preventive services. Early screening, detection, and treatment have been shown to help reduce the prevalence of cervical cancer.
- Screening and counseling for domestic and interpersonal violence: Studies have shown that, compared to heterosexual adults, lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to report experiencing intimate partner violence or physical abuse from other family members. Screening and counseling to identify women at risk for such violence will save lives.
Before the new rules went into effect, many plans didn’t even cover women’s basic health care needs, putting these services out of financial reach for many. Like other women, lesbian and bisexual women have paid the price for this discrimination with poorer health. Overall, 75 percent of lesbian women have delayed accessing health care, primarily because of inadequate health insurance and high out-of-pocket costs. Today’s milestone underscores that all women deserve quality, affordable coverage for the health care they need – no matter how old they are, how much they earn, or what their sexual orientation may be.