As we say goodbye to October and Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s remember that despite advances in modern medicine, breast cancer remains a significant health concern for millions of women. Breast cancer’s pink ribbon reminds us of the undeniable importance of early screening, why health insurance coverage matters, and the strides taken post-Affordable Care Act (ACA) to ensure more women have access to essential health services.
Screening Saves Lives
Early detection is paramount when battling breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer that’s detected early, while still localized in the breast, boasts a 90 percent 5-year relative survival rate. The benefits of early detection cannot be overstated. Mammograms, the primary screening tool for breast cancer, have played a vital role in decreasing mortality rates from the disease since the late 1980s.
Yet, early detection remains elusive to many women, primarily due to access barriers. In 2010, with the enactment of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), significant strides were made towards improving women’s access to quality health care services. The ACA made a profound impact in expanding access to preventative care for women, specifically the early detection of breast cancer.
Womens preventative health care fall under the umbrella of the 10 essential health benefits mandated by the ACA. The ACA fully covers mammography screenings every two years for women 50 and over and as recommended by a provider for those younger than 50.
Insurance: A Key Player in Early Detection
The truth is stark: Women with insurance are far more likely to get screened. A study published by the American Cancer Society found that uninsured women were significantly less likely to have had a mammogram in the past two years compared to those with insurance. This disparity isn’t merely about numbers; it translates into more advanced cancer diagnoses and, tragically, higher mortality rates for uninsured women.
Nationwide, an alarming 10 million women, 11% of women aged 19 to 64, lack health insurance, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). Further, 38% of women skipped preventative care and 23% skipped medical treatment during the pandemic. Across the U.S., women are dying due to avoidable reasons at the highest rate in the world, skipping crucial preventative services. Two out of every 1,000 deaths among women could be avoided, and access to insurance could be a key. The national average cost for a diagnostic mammogram is around $500 without insurance. Under the ACA, insurers must provide mammograms to women for free. For those without coverage, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many imaging centers and hospitals provide mammograms at a reduced cost.
Post-ACA: A Promising Landscape for Women’s Health
The ACA brought monumental shifts to the insurance landscape in the U.S., especially for women. Before the ACA, insurance companies could, and frequently did, charge women more than men for the same coverage. Many insurance plans did not cover the costs of essential services like mammograms.
The ACA changed that.
Since the implementation of the ACA, more than 20 million Americans have gained health insurance, with a notable reduction in the number of uninsured women. As a direct result, more women today have access to regular mammograms and early detection services than ever before.
The ACA’s impact on women’s health extends beyond breast cancer. The law also mandates the coverage of other important women’s health services, such as contraception, well-woman visits, and screenings for cervical cancer and osteoporosis.
While the progress made in the 13 years since the creation of the ACA is commendable, there’s still work to be done. Too many women, especially those in marginalized communities, remain uninsured and at greater risk.
As we sport pink ribbons this October, remember that awareness is just the first step, but insurance might be the most important step through expanded coverage and eliminating cost-sharing for preventive services, the ACA has empowered women to prioritize their health and facilitate early diagnosis. As a result, more women are benefiting from timely interventions, improved treatment outcomes, and better survival rates.
In most states, open enrollment for 2024 health insurance coverage is weeks away. With some exceptions, open enrollment will run from November through mid-January. Obtaining insurance is crucial for all eligible individuals to access essential preventive screening services such as mammograms. Visit HealthCare.gov or your state’s own exchange to learn more and shop for plans.