A giant leap forward for women's health
Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, women's preventive care services - such as mammograms and screenings for cervical cancer - are covered without co-pays or deductibles.Just last month, this list was expanded to include annual well-woman visits, access to contraception, counseling and screening for sexually transmitted infections, domestic violence screening, screening for gestational diabetes and breastfeeding support.These new guidelines go beyond respecting women's health and personal needs; they'll help stop health problems before they start and preserve health care dollars by avoiding the costs of preventable illness.As an attorney and a policy advocate, I've spent almost two decades working to protect and advance the well-being of women and families across New Hampshire. It has not been a straightforward journey, but rather a rocky road where progress has been gained incrementally and balanced against detours and setbacks during times with hostile political leaders and regressive policies.But after years of slow and incremental progress at the state and local level, President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act achieves for women in one fell swoop what I and dozens of other advocates in New Hampshire have worked toward for decades - comprehensive and affordable access to critical preventive health care services.Before these protections, women were more vulnerable to higher health care costs than men. Because our health needs are unique, we require more frequent health care visits, which subject us to higher out-of-pocket costs. And all too often, the combination of women's lower incomes and burdensome out-of-pocket costs means that many forgo necessary preventive services.In this regard, I celebrate the Affordable Care Act in both a professional and personal way. Because I know so many women behind these statistics - they are my friends, my colleagues and my students. I want them to get the health care they need without having to sacrifice other priorities.Passing this monumental legislation was not easy. One reason is that whenever women's health care is debated by elected officials in the Legislature or in Congress, there are those on the extreme fringe, far out of the mainstream, who ignore the individual needs of the women in our communities and insist on playing political games with the basic health care services that are key to our health and quality of life.Fortunately, President Obama and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius held firm against pressure to compromise on women's preventive care. Unlike some elected Republican leaders in Concord this year, who were determined to trade off women's health to score political points with special-interest groups, the Obama administration opened the door to life-saving and life-enhancing care for women.Let's celebrate this victory with the mothers, daughters, sisters and girlfriends whose lives might be saved. And let's make sure that door of access to affordable, life-saving care remains open, so that future generations of women and girls can enjoy healthier choices and healthier lives.Jennifer Frizzell of Concord is senior policy adviser for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England and an adjunct professor at the University of New Hampshire School of Law.