Today marks the day in which health insurance policies begin to make the transition into no-copay preventive services, a mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Because birth control is a preventive service, this means that along with pap smears and other preventive services, women will begin to experience the full coverage of their birth control as the law requires more and more policies to cover this service with no additional cost to policy-holders. For Latinas, our families, and our communities, this is great news.
Latinas and women of color are disproportionately poor, and the affordability of birth control is a major issue. As it stands, Latinas have the highest rates of lack of insurance of any other ethnic group of women in the United States. The reasons for this are systematic forces that have kept Latinas and many other women of color from accessing health care for years – a lack of access educational opportunities and jobs that provide health care coverage, unaffordable or otherwise inaccessible insurance policies on the private market, and policies that keep otherwise eligible low-income immigrants from accessing much-needed public health programs are just a few.
As the Affordable Care Act is implemented, this will change as more and more Latinas become eligible for Medicaid or tax credits that will help them purchase policies in a fairer marketplace that allows them to compare policies in a way that makes sense. In fact, it has already changed the lives of thousands of Latinos – an estimated 736,000 young Latino/as have been able to remain on their parents policies thanks to the ACA. And more and more, health insurance policies will be required to fully cover all preventive health services, including birth control. And Latinas do want birth control. The vast majority of sexually active Latinas – even Catholic ones – have used birth control at some point in their lives, and yet half of women 18-34 report that there’s been a time when the cost of a prescription contraceptive prevented consistent use. This new coverage has the potential to greatly decrease that number.
But while full coverage of contraception and all preventive health care services is a huge win for our communities, there is still much work to do to make sure that women of color and low-income people get the most out of the ACA. A number of governors across the country – including some from states that have some of the highest concentrations of Latinos, such as Texas and Florida – have announced that they do not plan on expanding Medicaid in their states. This means that some of the women that have had the most trouble affording contraceptives and other preventive services will remain at risk of not being able to afford that coverage. Immigrants, too, have been left behind by this groundbreaking legislation, with low-income legal permanent residents who have had this status for less than five years remaining ineligible for Medicaid and undocumented people not being eligible at all.
Today is a great day for women, but in our celebration we cannot forget that there is still much left to fight for. We must demand that our states expand Medicaid, and we must include immigrant women’s health in the larger women’s health dialogue. All women deserve salud, dignidad y justicia – no less.