The Affordable Care Act Was Passed Ten Years Ago Today. Here’s How It Affected Women.

Supermajority Education Fund

March 23, 2020

It has been exactly ten years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — President Barack Obama’s signature piece of legislation — was signed into law. Also known as “Obamacare,” the law allowed millions of Americans to have access to health insurance for the first time by purchasing plans through the government’s exchange programs. The legislation also prohibited insurance companies from discriminating against Americans with pre-existing health conditions and expanded access to Medicaid.

According to the New York Times, before the passage of the ACA, over 20 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 were uninsured. After the act became law, only 12.4 percent of Americans in that age group remained uninsured by 2016. While the law has been criticized for not providing universal healthcare coverage, the Times calculates that about 20 million Americans have received health insurance through the ACA since its passage.

The ACA has notably helped women access healthcare. The law forbade insurance companies from charging women more because of their gender and guaranteed patients access to contraception, prenatal care, and support for breastfeeding. 

“The ACA has transformed the health care landscape for women,” Sarah Coombs, senior health policy analyst at the National Partnership for Women and Families, told Supermajority News. Coombs said this was particularly true for women of color who “have historically faced disparities in access to health insurance and high-quality care due to a long history of racism and discrimination.”

Only 12 percent of healthcare plans provided maternity care prior to 2010. “The ACA’s expansion of Medicaid alone has made a tremendous difference in women’s health care,” said Coombs, noting that Medicaid is the largest provider of pregnancy-related health services nationwide. “Now, coverage for pregnancy-related care is guaranteed, and 8.7 million women in the individual market have coverage for prenatal and postnatal doctor visits.”

Despite these gains, the law has been challenged both in court and in Congress since 2010. As the Times reports, the ACA “has withstood more than 60 votes to repeal it from Republican-controlled Congresses, two Supreme Court decisions, the gutting of one of its main provisions (the tax penalty for not having insurance) and a president who campaigned on promises to get rid of it.”

The most recent attack on the law is the Trump administration’s lawsuit that would strike down the entire ACA, including the popular provision that prevents discrimination against pre-existing conditions. Women’s health care advocacy groups like Planned Parenthood Action Fund have called on the president to drop the lawsuit, especially because the current coronavirus public health emergency is already causing low-income people without employer-provided insurance to lose their jobs.

Several states have also been turning to the insurance plans available through the ACA in order to get as many residents covered as possible as coronavirus continues to spread. In recent weeks nine states — Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington — have recently reopened their enrollment periods in an attempt to get uninsured residents coverage.