In this election, arguments about women’s healthcare have often focused on abortion and contraception coverage. While I agree these are important issues, I would like to share my views from the perspective of a female cancer patient. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. “Obamacare,” requires insurance companies to cover such preventative services as breast cancer mammography screenings every one to two years for women over 40, breast cancer chemoprevention counseling for women at higher risk, and annual screenings for cervical cancer. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have pledged to repeal Obamacare, meaning many women could lose these important benefits from their paid insurance plans.
Even worse is the Republican plan, or lack thereof, for the many women currently without coverage. When money is tight, women are often the family members who go uncovered because we are often charged as much as three times the insurance rates of men (a problem Obamacare resolves as of 2014). I know many hard-working women — single and married — who are self-employed or work jobs that offer no insurance coverage and who can’t afford to pay for coverage themselves. Many married women whose spouses have good health insurance policies still go uncovered because of the high cost of adding family coverage. Obamacare will make more options available to ALL women when the program goes into full force in 2014. But meanwhile, women without coverage need Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood of Eastern Iowa has been awarded funds by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to offer free breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings to qualified women between the ages 40 and 64. Planned Parenthood is pretty much the only way a woman in Iowa City and in other towns across eastern Iowa can get a mammogram if she doesn’t have insurance and can’t afford the $450 cost of the screening (not to mention the cost of the doctor’s visit; the full cost of my annual physical this year was around $1,000). What does Mr. Romney think about this essential healthcare service for women? “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that,” he said.
For me, these issues are personal. In August, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Because my cancer was caught early, my prognosis is excellent. It is not an exaggeration to say that my “Obamacare mammogram” may have saved my life. If the mammogram had not been covered as part of my annual exam, I would not have been able to afford to have one. Obamacare also ensures that I don’t have to worry about lifetime caps on insurance coverage or being dropped by my insurance company. It gives me the power to shop around for affordable insurance premiums without being rejected because of a pre-existing condition. And because my coverage is more secure, I don’t have to worry about saddling my family with insurmountable debt should my condition worsen. No family should go bankrupt just because one family member happens to get sick.
One out of every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime. Yet when breast cancer is detected in the early, localized stages, the five-year survival rate is 98%. The evidence of my cancer was so small that I would not have discovered it with a self-exam until the cancer was much more life threatening. Access to mammograms and other preventative cancer screenings is crucial, and Barack Obama has pledged to maintain access to these services for ALL women. As you mark your ballot in this election, the choice you make for president could save the lives of the women you love.
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Karen Nichols is a freelance writer and editor. She lives in Iowa City with her husband, Tom Lindsey, and their five-year-old son, Jackson.