[Our guest blogger is Megan Amundson of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. We're also active supporters of the Countdown to Coverage campaign, an effort to help women understand the concrete ways that the Affordable Care Act is already helping women and our families stay healthy. They have highlighted all the new benefits for women's health in a series of posts this week.]
Today (August 1) marks an historic step forward for women across Massachusetts and the United States. From this point on, new health insurance plans must begin covering women’s preventive services like contraception, breastfeeding counseling and support, and screenings for sexual transmitted diseases, including HIV and HPV without charging any additional costs, like co-pays. As exciting as these new services are, the underlying message is that women’s basic health care is just that—basic health care. And now basic health care must be available to every woman regardless of where she lives or how much she earns. This change in how we define preventive care is what inspires me the most.
As a new mother, I find myself in the middle of my life wishing that the Affordable Care Act had been law when I was younger. Never mind the years of anxiety trying simply to get health insurance as I entered the workplace in my early 20s, wishing I still had my parent’s insurance rather than the cut-rate version I could afford. Never mind all the money I spent on birth control for 14 years on prescription co-pays and paying for birth control outright when I was in between insurance coverage. Rather, it was when I had my baby last winter that I realized how challenging accessing basic health care services can be.
When I became the mother of a beautiful, healthy baby girl, I found out firsthand how difficult and expensive it is to find the kinds of support new mothers need, first and foremost breastfeeding support. You can’t be pregnant in our society without being regularly told about the importance of breastfeeding. But no one prepares you for how hard it will be, and support isn’t guaranteed when you need it most – as soon as your baby is born.
My own stay in the hospital after giving birth was lengthy. Despite all of my efforts and pushing the nursing staff to get me access to a lactation specialist, I went days without breastfeeding support. It seems that the fact that my daughter was born healthy worked against her in getting assistance to keep her healthy. By the time I saw the specialist I was unable to breastfeed entirely. Then it was entirely unclear what my insurance would cover. Would it provide us with a breast pump to allow me to continue to provide her with breast milk or ongoing access to a lactation specialist? Every health insurance is different, we were told.
As the Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, I am thrilled to be working toward a world where no woman will have to fight like I did to get basic health care. I am overjoyed that today marks the day when breastfeeding won’t be possible only for women with incredible luck or financial resources. But more than that, women in every phase of life will be able freely access services to keep herself and her family healthy. The Affordable Care Act has brought us this welcome respite from the war on women, but we must remember the work is far from over.