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Debra Ness's picture

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When it passed, we recognized the Affordable Care Act (ACA) as the greatest advance for women’s health in a generation.

This new law is already beginning to eliminate the punitive and predatory insurance practices that have penalized women and families for decades, and instead bringing us closer to the day when essential women’s services are fully covered, prevention is a priority, and care is coordinated so family caregivers don’t struggle to shoulder impossible loads. The benefits to women – and their families – are myriad. Health reform means insurers cannot charge women more because of our gender, or deny or cap our coverage when we get sick. It means coverage for breast and cervical cancer screenings and family planning services. It ends the days when young adult children were kicked off their parents’ insurance policies.

So why is a law that’s brought so much progress, and even more promise, in such great peril? Because too many lawmakers are putting politics ahead of the best interests of their constituents, who urgently need reliable, affordable, comprehensive and well-coordinated health care. They are more interested in throwing up roadblocks and scoring political points than focusing on what the country needs.

It’s time to take a step back and reconsider what’s best for women and families, for our economy and for the country. We need to realize the promise of health reform by allowing implementation to proceed. And we need to adopt the family friendly policies that will allow workers to access the health care services they need, while holding onto their jobs.

I read with interest a recent study by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation scholar which found that more adults postpone or go without medical care for nonfinancial reasons than for financial reasons. The researcher, Jeffrey T. Kullgren, notes that: “Many patients also have nonfinancial reasons they can’t get the health care they need when they need it. They may live a great distance from the doctor, and traveling is a challenge. They may work jobs that make it hard to go to a doctor’s office during a normal business day, where leaving work would mean they wouldn’t get paid or might risk losing their job.”

That’s not a huge surprise when you consider that nearly 44 million workers in the United States don’t have paid sick days. A mere 11 percent have access to paid family leave through their employers, and fewer than 40 percent have access to paid medical leave through employer-provided short-term disability insurance. When workers are without these basic protections, they are forced to choose between their health and their financial security when illness strikes – and in this job market, it’s no surprise many choose to forgo treatment and preventive care rather than risking their jobs or their paychecks.

So instead of continuing the posturing and politicking and efforts to repeal health reform, let’s get to the business at hand – work together to implement the Affordable Care Act, and adopt paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. Then, we’ll be on track for healthier workers, healthier families, and a healthier country.

Cross posted at the blog of the National Partnership for Women and Families.


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