What Obamacare Really Means for Women's Health

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By Kathryn Nix

Yesterday marked the first anniversary of Obamacare. While advocates spend the week highlighting the new law’s effects on different groups of Americans, we will do the same. A review of the facts on the ground and the conclusions of Heritage research over the past year reveal the far-reaching negative consequences of the new law.

Today, the argument is that Obamacare is good for women. Though there are sure to be those who experience some benefit under the new law, its overall effect will be negative for all Americans, women included.

The act includes new requirements that all health plans cover specific preventive services with no cost-sharing. Increasing prevention of serious illness is necessary to promote better health among Americans and would also likely reduce long-term health care spending. But Obamacare goes about it in the wrong ways, and it will have unintended consequences that hurt patients. Last year’s recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force (USPSTF) regarding breast cancer screening for women between the ages of 40 and 50 highlights how these changes could hurt women specifically.

The new law requires insurers to cover all preventive measures ranked A or B by the USPSTF with no cost-sharing. Turning the task force’s recommendations into requirements has proven to be a bureaucratic nightmare. More importantly, as research by Heritage analyst Brian Blase shows, “the mandate requiring insurance companies to pay for preventive services with no cost-sharing has increased premiums while reducing consumer opportunity to select from a variety of plans.”

Before passage of Obamacare, Heritage expert Ed Haislmaier warned that “the more specific [the Department of Health and Human Services] gets in its benefit requirements—driving up the cost of coverage—the greater the incentive will be for insurers and employers to control those escalating costs by not covering anything that they aren’t absolutely required to cover by federal law.”

Last year, the USPSTF changed its recommendation rating for breast cancer screening for women between the ages of 40 and 50 from B to C. Because, as the Congressional Research Service points out, “a plan or issuer has the discretion to either cover or not cover additional preventive services not recommended by the USPSTF,” mammography would be unlikely to be covered by health plans under Obamacare. Because of the controversy that followed the USPSTF recommendation, Congress actually overturned it, thereby proving how vulnerable the process is to political manipulation.

The change in rating was not intended to signal that women in this age bracket should not be screened for breast cancer but rather that they should determine with their doctor, on a case-by-case basis, whether or not to undergo routine screening. But bureaucratic involvement will turn this gray area of medicine, where value is subjective and varies by case, into a black-and-white issue at the patient’s expense.

Though this particular case exemplifies how women would be impacted by this harmful provision of Obamacare, the problems presented by the mammography controversy could affect all patients. Health care reform should allow patients to choose, from a wide range of options, the health care plans that best meet their needs. It should also empower doctors and patients to determine together what is best in the case of each individual rather than allowing bureaucrats to influence decision-making.

While liberals try to sell the ever-unpopular Obamacare to the American people, a look at the bigger picture reveals that, in practice, the new health care law ultimately hurts patients.


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