Women’s Empowerment Initiative Looks at Affordable Care

The Vice Chancellor’s Office of Student Affairs presented Allyson Sonenshine, J.D. for the second installment of the Women’s Empowerment Initiative last Friday, January 10. Held as a tea luncheon, attendees gathered to learn about the expansion of the Affordable Health Care Act and the surprising number of benefits being afforded to women’s health.

Kimberly Van | New University

Kimberly Van | New University

The luncheon tea began at 12:00 p.m. at the Newkirk Alumni Center. Attendees entered the room to find assorted desserts and teas. Before introducing Sonenshine, Director of the Campus Assault and Resource Education (C.A.R.E.) Office Mandy Mount, Ph.D. explained the significance of tea to the audience and the WEI’s overall purpose.

“Get to know one another because that is important when we are talking about empowering women,” Mount said. “That’s actually the reason that we’re gathering over tea instead of the typical brown bag lunch that we’re used to. I’ve come to learn that tea serves a very important purpose in many communities around the world.”

Citing several countries in Asia as examples, Mount emphasized that tea serves as a base for socialization and intellectual stimulation, leading to relationship building. Afterward, Mount introduced Sonenshine who founded the Orange County Women’s Health Project, a non-profit that facilitates improvements in local women’s health through data analysis, policy development, local education and advocacy. Also employed by UCI, Sonenshine works as an adjunct professor.

Before beginning her presentation, Sonenshine asked the audience about the significance of the number 1,389 and after several responses she revealed it to be the number of days since the ACA was signed into law. Since March 10, 2010, people have been frustrated with the state of healthcare reform in the U.S. Sonenshine explained how despite all of noise surrounding the ACA legislation, commonly referred to as “Health Care Reform” or “Obamacare,” many enormous improvements afforded by the ACA for women’s health have been drowned out of the debate. Sonenshine explained how the ACA is expanding coverage, increasing affordability and focusing on preventative care. Furthermore, the ACA worked to eradicate the discriminatory practices that previously existed against women. Sonenshine shared her objective to inform the audience, comprised of both women and men, on how to make sense of this law and how to use the information to their benefit.

“My objective today is to make sure that everyone in this room understands and hopefully appreciates why there is so much to be excited about in the Affordable Care Act for women, and in particular improving women’s health,” Sonenshine said.

Sonenshine urged that healthcare reform is particularly important because many Americans are still uninsured. Before the ACA was implemented, the number of uninsured Americans was rising steadily with an astounding increase of over 10 million people in one decade, totaling 51 million people uninsured in 2010. In regards to women, over 20 percent of women had no health insurance. Using 12 percent of our GDP, the U.S. has the highest per capita health spending in the world. Sonenshine pointed out that although we have spent more than any of our other peers in the industrialized world, we have had the worst outcomes, especially in terms of life expectancy and infant mortality. The state of healthcare before the ACA also included a mishmash of public and private insurances, leading to unfair industry practice. For instance, there was no standard benefits package and insurance companies could exclude or drop patients who were unwell. Sonenshine explained prior to implementing the ACA, the insurance industry itself essentially institutionalized discriminatory policies against women and entire classes of people.

The ACA has expanded who and what can be covered. For instance, previously Medicaid eligibility was based on income and category. As of Jan. 1, 2014, Medicaid eligibility is based solely on income and the Federal government will pay 100 percent of expansion costs until 2016, gradually increasing to 90 percent in 2020 and thereafter. Basing health insurance plans on income makes it easier for low-income individuals to obtain private healthcare. Also at the start of 2014, the ACA has also prohibited companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing condition.

In regards to the WEI, statistically, healthcare reform proves to be especially important for women. Overall, Sonenshine said that women have higher healthcare needs than men, yet struggle to find affordable plans in the individual market and often end up paying more. Well known to most, women on average earn less than men, yet compared to men there are fewer women who have employer-based insurance. As far as expanding what can be covered, the ACA insures maternity and newborn care, preventative and wellness services and chronic disease management. She explained how all FDA forms of contraception are now to be covered with no cost sharing. For instance, instead of patients having to pay $140 contraception and IUD insertion, they no longer have to pay co-pay. The bill for the counseling, the visit, the medication itself, etc. are now all covered with cost sharing.

Before opening the floor for individual questions, Sonenshine closed her presentation by sharing some of the latest legislative and administrative developments affecting ACA implementation. Sonenshine explained that employers that refuse to provide these contraceptive benefits are fined. Many employers are objecting because they believe the required provision of contraception goes against their religious or moral beliefs. From the very beginning, the government established a special exemption for organizations that have a tax treatment as a religious organization whose actual purpose is to inculcate religion, such as temples, churches or mosques. In 2012 when this was established, there was such tremendous uproar that the Obama administration said they would create a year of safe harbor where they would review testimonies and complaints. It was within that year that the Obama administration issued some rules and created special accommodations for a second class of companies. The first including the churches, temples and other organization inculcating religion, while the second class now includes religiously affiliated organizations, like Catholic-owned hospitals or Jesuit schools that are non-profit and operate in a manner consistent with their religions. There are over 90 lawsuits pending at the moment challenging this requirement and employers, including two Supreme Court cases that will be decided this year.

Of the few dozen participants, Nancy Gutierrez, a first-year undecided undergraduate student, said she attended the seminar to learn more about public health and be exposed to another side of the ACA because responses have varied broadly.

“I didn’t realize how much women were discriminated in the sector of healthcare,” Gutierrez said. “I honestly still need to study Obamacare more in-depth on my own, but after this presentation I realized that the ACA today is a good thing, and that society has the opportunity to have healthcare covered for everything.”