Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2017

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Where I Stand — Guest Column:

It’s a woman’s world for prescriptions, too

In August, Brian Greenspun turns over his Where I Stand column to guest writers. Today’s columnist is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Fourteen years ago, I read an editorial in the Sun with the headline, “A Man’s World for Prescriptions.” When this editorial was published, the birth control pill, a proven and basic part of women’s health care for several decades, was usually not covered by insurance companies. By contrast, most of these same insurance plans already were covering Viagra, which had just come on the market that very year. That was just one example of the type of discrimination women routinely faced from insurance companies. The editorial concluded: “It’s time for Congress to put women on an equal footing with men on issues involving public health and pass the Reid-Snowe legislation requiring insurance companies to pay for contraceptive prescriptions.” I am pleased to announce that day has arrived.

I first began working to end insurance company discrimination against women in 1997 with Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe. As part of this effort, we passed a law that ensured all federal employees access to contraception. When this benefit took effect in 1999, despite the warnings of our critics, premiums didn’t go up a dime. The Affordable Care Act, sometimes known as “Obamacare,” continues this effort and ends insurance discrimination against women once and for all. It puts women and their doctors — not insurance companies — in charge of their health care. It is unfortunate that it took 15 years for this common-sense policy to be enacted. This is a long-overdue win for women.

On Aug. 1, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, a wide range of preventive care services became available to women without co-pays or deductibles. That’s because new insurance plans are now required to cover things such as wellness visits, contraception, breast-feeding support and supplies, screening for gestational diabetes, screening and counseling for domestic violence, as well as testing and counseling for HPV and HIV without any cost-sharing.

Keep in mind, since last year the Affordable Care Act already is requiring plans to cover lifesaving preventive care such as mammograms, colonoscopies, blood pressure checks and childhood immunizations without any co-pays. Almost 400,000 women in Nevada will have guaranteed access to these additional preventive services without cost-sharing.

A report by the Commonwealth Fund found that, in 2009, more than half of all women delayed or avoided necessary care because of cost. Women were forced to pay higher premiums and also paid greater out-of-pocket expenses for health care services, so it’s not surprising that many of these individuals gambled with their health to save money. By requiring insurance companies to offer these preventive services free of charge, the Affordable Care Act is making it easier for women to detect illnesses and health risks early. These significant measures will have long-term, positive implications for women everywhere.

These accomplishments will affect women in every state, so it’s hard to understand why Republicans continue to wage war on these monumental improvements for women’s health care. When they threaten to repeal Obamacare, Republicans threaten to roll back landmark protections for women — protections that will ensure that women no longer may be charged more for the same policy as men, and women will not be denied coverage because they have a pre-existing condition, such as having been a victim of domestic violence.

The numbers don’t lie. House Republicans have voted more than 30 times to repeal the full extent or parts of the Affordable Care Act. Rarely does a day go by that the Republicans do not attack the law — whether it’s wellness for women, or the filling of the doughnut hole for seniors, or the many preventive services that are now the law of the land. Again, it’s hard for me to understand their logic when millions of men and women throughout the country will benefit from this new law.

The Affordable Care Act puts women — not insurance companies or the government — in charge of their health care. I know I’ll remember Aug. 1 as a day that women’s lives improved in Nevada and across the United States.

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