The Affordable Care Act : What Does It Mean For College Women?

On August 1st, 2012, new provisions under the Affordable Care Act went into effect that provide American women with access to a number of preventative healthcare services, including free birth control. What does this mean for female college students? Here is some general information about the ACA and how it might affect you.

What is Covered Under the ACA?

The National Council of Jewish Women has put together a comprehensive fact sheet that outlines the new preventative care services now offered to women without co-pays or out-of-pocket costs. You can access that here. These services include annual well-woman visits, birth control counseling, breastfeeding support, STI counseling and HIV screening, testing for cervical cancer, and counseling for domestic violence.

Opening access to these services is great news for college women, especially as The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women begin annual gynecological visits no later than 21 years of age or approximately three years from their first sexual encounter, regardless of what age that occurred.

What Does “Free” Birth Control Mean?

When people say “free” birth control, they mean that all FDA approved contraception, including sterilization, will be fully covered by health insurance plans without a co-pay or deductable. This coverage does not extend to any abortion services.

I Don’t Have Insurance. Can I Still Access These Benefits?

Unfortunately no, the new provisions only apply to those who have new employee sponsored or individual heath insurance plans. If you are insured under a plan that has not changed since March 23, 2010, then these policies may be exempt from some of the benefits of the ACA. However, by 2014 most of these plans will be considered “new”. You also may have to wait for benefits to begin if your health insurance is renewed after August. For example, if your health insurance doesn’t get renewed until the beginning of each calendar year, you will have to wait until January 2013 to see these benefits.

The good news for college students is that most school health plans are renewed in August, so if you are covered under one of these plans, you will be able to access these benefits right away. If you have any questions about whether you are covered under these new provision, the best thing you can do is call your insurance provider.

I Go To A Private Religious University, Am I Still Covered?

It is likely that you have heard that some private religious institutions, including universities and colleges, have push backed against some of the new provisions of the ACA, claiming moral objections to providing free birth control. Because of this, some institutions have been granted a one-year “transition period” to implement the new health care benefits. The President’s administration is working on a new regulation that will require insurance companies to provide birth control directly to employees and students in order to honor institutions’ religious beliefs.

If you are unsure about whether or not you are covered by your school’s insurance policy, ask your college administration or campus health-care provider. Make sure to know your school’s policy. For more information see here.

Why is this Important? Does This Mean I Have to Pay More for Insurance?

Matters of sexuality and family planning are extremely private and personal, and no person should be vilified for their choices. Unfortunately, the last year has seen the debates surrounding these issues grow increasingly contentious and ugly; one of the unfortunate consequences of these debates is the problematic conflation of morality and religious freedom with a woman’s right to comprehensive health care and contraception. If your religious and/or personal beliefs do not allow for contraceptive use or sex outside of marriage, it is your right to abstain from both. Conversely, if you choose to be sexually active and wish to use contraception in order to decide when and if you have children, it is your right to do so without having to defend or justify yourself. Try to keep in mind that these new provisions do not only cover contraception, they also offer a wide range of benefits and preventative health care to women.

It’s impossible to write about these issues without mentioning how incredibly politicized this debate has become, however it is my firm belief that a woman’s access to preventative healthcare and contraception is a basic human right, and not a Democratic or Republican issue. I find it saddening that women’s bodies have become increasingly politicized. Remember that if you do not wish to access these benefits you are not compelled to. There has also been much debate about the added burden of these new provisions to the American taxpayer. Know, however, that these benefits are provided through private insurance companies, and not by taxpayers. Some argue that insurance companies will jack up their premiums in order to make up for revenue loss. However, covering preventative healthcare and contraception for those who might not be able to afford it otherwise saves insurance companies money by keeping women healthy and saving them from spending on other health services. Various studies have shown that offering this type of coverage actually lowers premiums in the long run.

According to a study done by the University of Minnesota, 77% of college students surveyed were sexually active and somewhere close to 98% of women use some form of birth control during their lifetime. Many young women worry about pregnancy prevention and sexual health. This is also true of college women, as an unexpected pregnancy or preventable illness could derail academic or personal goals. It is also likely that as a woman you will bear the burden, economic and otherwise, of family planning, which is why easier access to these health care services is such great news.

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Brianna Low

Brianna Low

Brianna Low is a rising senior at DePaul University pursuing a double major in English and Spanish. Brianna enjoys reading, writing, and traveling. She currently works for DePaul's Art Department as a receptionist and hopes to one day work in a library. Brianna is happiest when surrounded by books.
Brianna Low

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