This week, people throughout the country will focus on the serious threat to the health of women and girls posed by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. March 10 is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and on that day national and local organizations working on women’s health and HIV/AIDS will hold community observances and educational events to raise awareness and catalyze action. I encourage you to find out about an event near you and be a part of it.
More than 290,000 women in the U.S. are living with HIV and the proportion of women infected with HIV keeps rising - in 1985, women made up just 8 percent of all new U.S. HIV infections, but by 2009, women comprised 25 percent of new infections. The growing impact of the disease is even more alarming for women of color. Compared to white women, black women are 23 times more likely, and Latinas are 5 times more likely, to contract HIV.
But despite the frightening trends of the epidemic, this year there has also been important progress made for women and girls that we can celebrate. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more women will be able to get the HIV testing they need without any extra charges or co-pays. We know that about one in five people infected with HIV in the U.S. do not know they have it. Without this information, people don’t get the treatment that can help them stay healthy, and many new infections are caused because people are unaware of their status. We also know that co-pays for health services, even small charges, are a significant barrier to care. In 2009, more than half of women delayed or avoided preventive care because of its cost. Starting in August 2012, insurers will be required to cover HIV testing and other essential preventive services for women, without additional cost sharing, allowing more women to get tested.
The ACA will also ensure that women and children living with HIV are able to get and keep affordable health insurance that makes it possible for them to get the treatment they need. Currently, only 17 percent of those living with HIV have private insurance, and nearly 30 percent have no coverage at all. The ACA has created a new insurance coverage option for HIV+ people by making it possible for people with pre-existing conditions, like HIV, to get insurance through Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plans. In 2014, it will make it illegal for insurers to deny a person coverage because of a pre-existing condition, and this protection is already in place for children, meaning insurers cannot deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition for anyone 18 years old or younger. And importantly for women facing the high cost of lifelong treatment for HIV, the ACA has eliminated lifetime limits on coverage, so insurers can no longer drop people with high health care costs after they hit a certain cap in dollars they spend on health services.
So as you join with others on March 10 to recognize the terrible impact, of HIV/AIDS in the lives of women and girls, I hope you’ll also take a minute to say thank you Affordable Care Act for upholding your promise to provide more women with the health care we need.
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