In Louisiana and beyond, women’s organizations are raising the alarm about the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which Petrice Sams-Abiodun of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast calls “the worst bill for women’s health in a generation.”
House Republicans voted May 4 in favor of the bill intended to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. (No Democrats voted for the bill.) Though its passage doesn’t necessarily mean anything — the Senate has suggested it will write its own bill, spearheaded by an all-male committee — the substance of the AHCA in its current form has been roundly condemned by observers and providers focused on women’s rights and access to health care.
In a statement, Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast described some of the many potential consequences that could stem from the bill that would disproportionately affect women. Near the top of its list: the AHCA prohibits reimbursement payments from the Medicaid program to Planned Parenthood for one year, cutting people who use Medicaid off from the organization which acts as a major preventative care provider in many Louisiana communities.
“This legislation … blocks 6,000 in Louisiana from accessing birth control, cancer screenings and STI testing at Planned Parenthood,” Sams-Abiodun said. “That will make it harder for women in Louisiana to prevent unintended pregnancy, harder to have a healthy pregnancy and harder to raise a family.”
Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast also criticized the bill’s cuts to “essential health benefits” mandates, a change which would allow insurers to charge extra for policies with reproductive and maternity coverage of any kind. (The ACA banned this practice.) Most odiously, the prospective repeal of the ACA’s “community rating provisions” requirement means insurers would be free to jack up rates for women who have experienced life changes that might impact their health status — including commonplace situations such as having given birth, receiving a Caesarean section or having had breast cancer. “One study found that a woman who was previously pregnant could be charged an additional $17,000 a year for [insurance] coverage,” Sams-Abiodun said.
At Louisiana Foundation Against Sexual Assault, director of education and prevention Jessie Nieblas points out the bill poses a specific threat to the many women who are survivors of sexual violence.
Regardless of whether sexual assault itself is identified as a pre-existing condition — a claim which circulated around the internet last week and was, to some degree, debunked — survivors have higher than typical rates of illness including chronic diseases, sexually-transmitted infections and mental health problems, Nieblas said. The AHCA’s potential removal of protections for people with pre-existing conditions could be uniquely damaging to people who have already endured sexual violence.
“Health insurance companies may classify medical care, like a screening for sexually-transmitted infection, treatment for PTSD, medications for hypertension or a forensic examination as a pre-existing condition,” she explained in an email. “Sexual violence survivors may opt out of medical treatment and mental health care, because it would affect their ability to get health insurance in the future.”
Outside of Louisiana, national women’s organizations also spoke out against the bill in a flurry of strongly worded press releases. In its own blistering statement, the nonpartisan National Partnership for Women and Families called the bill “atrocious and damaging” and warned that the bill in its current form threatens people with pre-existing conditions and people with mental health needs — the latter being a group which includes more women than men.
“If this bill becomes law, we will return to a time when many more women and families struggled to find affordable health care coverage that fits their needs,” the organization warned. It particularly condemned the AHCA’s ban on Planned Parenthood Medicaid reimbursements, saying “[The bill will] deny people access to preventative and potentially life-saving care.”
The National Organization for Women (NOW) echoed the concerns mentioned above, and also mentioned what this bill might mean for women of color, who have higher risks for certain medical conditions such as breast and cervical cancer — and who already struggle with access to health care.
In a news release issued the day of the bill’s passage, NOW promised to make opposition to the AHCA a centerpiece of its efforts to mobilize voters in the months to come.
“Today’s narrow vote for a disastrous health care bill will come back to haunt House Republicans,” it predicted.