Commonwealth Fund analysis highlights benefits for women in health-care overhaul

By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 30, 2010

The law Congress adopted this spring to reshape the nation's health-care system will be especially beneficial to women, because they traditionally have relied on health care more than men, faced more insurance problems and had greater difficulty paying medical bills, according to a new analysis.

The Commonwealth Fund found that women will be helped in particular by central aspects of the legislation designed to improve and expand access to insurance. Commonwealth was a major supporter of the legislation. At a time when some Republicans and other conservatives continue to challenge the law, the study on women is part of a series of reports the foundation is planning to demonstrate the law's relevance to different groups of people.

Once the insurance expansion occurs, starting in 2014, about 15 million of the nearly 17 million U.S. women who currently are uninsured will be eligible for coverage with federal financial help, the report predicts. Slightly more than half of them will qualify to join Medicaid, and the rest will qualify for government subsidies to buy private coverage through new insurance "exchanges" that will be run by states.

In addition, the report says, women will be helped by the fact that insurance policies available through the exchanges will be required to cover a standard set of health benefits to be defined by federal officials. As a result, such insurance will cover care for women who are pregnant -- coverage absent today from nearly nine out of 10 health plans sold to people who buy policies on their own, rather than getting it through a job.

The Commonwealth report does not focus on provisions in the law that apply only to women. Instead, it examines ways that women will be affected by significant aspects of the law that will apply to everyone. It notes that recent surveys have shown that women are prone to difficulty finding and affording coverage.

In such a climate, the analysis found, for instance, that women will particularly be helped by a change, scheduled for September, that will prohibit many insurance plans from rescinding coverage if enrollees become sick. That change, the analysis says, will be useful to women who develop breast cancer, some of whom have lost their insurance in the past.

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