(Special to The Root) — Taking bold steps to expand access to women's health care services and treatments, to strengthen women's health and wellness and to reduce gender health disparities is extremely personal to me as a woman and as a physician. As President Obama has said, he is happy to own "Obamacare," and as a doctor and member of Congress who has advocated for health care reform for many years and who knows firsthand the many ways that the Affordable Care Act will improve the health, health care, wellness and, thus, life opportunities of women in this nation, I couldn't agree more.
Before my election to Congress, I practiced family medicine for more than two decades. From my own experience, I know that prior to the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans suffered the health and economic consequences of a health care system that was broken. Too many women in particular paid the ultimate health and economic price.
African-American women, other ethnic-minority women, low-income women and women in rural communities were disproportionately and detrimentally affected (pdf) by the nation's inadequate health care system. While Gov. Mitt Romney may be aware of the impact of the nation's old health care system on women, he still vows to repeal the Affordable Care Act while offering no plans to replace it or its measures to preserve and protect the health, health care, wellness and freedom of American women.
It has been encouraging to stand by a president who will not give any ground to those who are simply out of touch with the health care needs and preferences of American women today. It is inspiring to support a president who will not cater to those who are determined to compromise women's health, their lives and their careers by taking away from them a very basic civil liberty: the right to make their decisions about their health and health care.
The leadership that President Obama has and will continue to demonstrate in defense of women's health runs counter to the paternalistic and antiquated positions taken by Romney, who supported an amendment that would take women's most personal health decisions out of their hands and give them to their employers — a measure that would affect nearly 79 million American women.
Before health care reform, millions of Americans were unable to receive care because of the way that health insurance companies did business. However, soon the 180 million Americans with private insurance will be fully protected against the most unjust and unfair health insurance abuses. Many of these abuses — like charging women more than men for the same health care benefits, or denying coverage to women who are survivors of domestic abuse — blatantly and wrongfully targeted women. As a direct result of the Affordable Care Act, the days of insurance companies being allowed and enabled to bully women appear to be over.
We all know that preventive care saves not only money but also lives. For far too long before health care reform, millions of Americans — a disproportionate number of whom were ethnic-minority, rural or low-income women — were forced to forgo or postpone the care that could stop or catch illnesses and diseases at their earliest and most treatable stages simply because of cost. Before the Affordable Care Act, millions of our most vulnerable residents, living in underserved communities and having medical needs that exceeded their financial resources, were diagnosed with late stages of heart disease, cancer and other conditions — when they are most difficult to treat and cure — because they lacked reliable access to affordable preventive care, such as annual wellness exams, mammograms and colonoscopies.
In fact, prior to health care reform, 20 percent (pdf) of African-American women were not up-to-date on their Pap smears, and 1 in 3 African-American women were not up-to-date on their mammograms. As a result of not having reliable access to needed health care before the Affordable Care Act, millions of American women died prematurely, and often from preventable causes, during their most productive years.
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, millions of women will get greater control over their health care over the coming months through access to eight new prevention-related health care services, including everything from contraception to well-women visits, without paying more out of their own pockets. Not only does this mean that millions of Americans will begin living healthier lives, but they will no longer have to choose between lifesaving care and putting food on the table for their families or paying their rent or utilities to keep themselves and their families safe and sound.
Because of health care reform, we — as a nation — are finally on a path that will reduce not only gender but also racial, ethnic and geographic health disparities; save billions of dollars; and create desperately needed jobs. As a woman, a doctor and the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust, I know that my constituents and fellow Americans not only will see the benefits but also will enjoy the good health that follows, for years to come. And the next time I hear anyone say anything about "Obamacare," I will remember that we have that law today because President Obama does care.
Rep. Donna Christensen (D-U.S. Virgin Islands) is the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust.
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