From its inception, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has been very progressive in the ways it has created more gender equity in our healthcare system. For example, the law prohibited health insurance companies from charging women higher rates than men, reversing a widespread industry practice, according to the National Women’s Law Center. It also added maternity care to the list of essential services that all new coverage plans must provide, and it required all plans to cover biennial mammograms for women over 40. Finally, the ACA eliminated co-payments or contraceptive coverage and made screening and counseling for domestic violence available in all new plans.
By eliminating discriminatory practices and expanding coverage of services essential to women, the ACA promised to have a profound impact on women’s health. Based on a new study, we are starting to see results that confirm the law is doing just that. In fact, the evidence suggests the ACA is helping save women’s lives, thanks to another provision in the law–its extension of dependent coverage to the age of 26. As the New York Times reported Wednesday, researchers from the American Cancer Society have just published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) that establishes a link between an increase in early cervical cancer detection and the ACA.
Using the National Cancer Database, which catalogues approximately 70 percent of all cancer cases in the U.S., researchers compared cervical cancer diagnoses before and after the ACA. became law in 2010. Specifically, they compared diagnoses between two age groups, women between 21 and 25 and women ages 26 to 34. In the years after the law’s enactment, the researchers found a dramatic increase in early stage diagnoses for the younger group, while the percentage remained steady with the older group. Whereas 71 percent of the younger group had an early-stage diagnosis from 2007-09, the figure increased to 79 percent in 2011-12.
These findings proved even more impressive when the researchers analyzed the increase by year. For example, in 2011 early stage diagnoses rose to 84 percent, marking a 16 percent increase from 2009.
The impact on survival rates is substantial. Early diagnosis makes it more likely the patient will get effective treatment, thus improving the patient’s chances of remission. Furthermore, early detection also greatly increases the patient’s chances of remaining fertile after treatment is completed.
According to the Times article, the ACA has had a notable impact on these outcomes. Simply put, the law has significantly increased the number of insured women in this country, so more women are able to get screenings that detect the cancer at an early stage. Moreover, the provision allowing young people to remain on their parents’ health plans until they reach age 26 has greatly expanded the number of insured women in that first age group, where the researchers saw the most dramatic increase.
One of the researchers, Dr. Ahmedin Jemal, insisted that the connection between this increase in early detections and the ACA is undeniable. “It’s a very remarkable finding, actually. You see the effect of the A.C.A. on the cancer outcomes.”