Doctor's Examination Room

Let’s play a quick game. What do you think about first when you hear/read the words “The Affordable Care Act” (ACA)?

If you’re like me you picture former President Barack Obama, and the wrangling he encountered with Congress to pass health care reform during his first term in the White House. Maybe, you think about the numerous lawsuits attempting to challenge the constitutionality of the legislation – with the most recent case being heard by the Justices just last week. For the more practical type, perhaps the ACA reminds you about health insurance – an important reminder that open enrollment for 2021 coverage ends on December 15th!

Whatever you envisioned, I bet there’s one thing that did not pop into your mind…

…that the ACA is working! Clouded by the continued fight to ensure everyone can access health insurance, it’s easy to forget that passing legislation – like the ACA and others – has actual, realized and positive impacts on communities around the country. It may be someone you know.

Here’s what we do know. The National Women’s Law Center has calculated that – thanks to the ACA – 64.3 million women have insurance coverage of preventive services, including birth control, without out-of-pocket costs (166 million people total). This is a 5% increase from 2019, meaning that nearly 3 million more women had no-cost birth control coverage in 2020 than they did the year before. While this news alone is enough to rejoice in celebration, there’s even more to enjoy! A new study conducted by the University of Michigan reports that eliminating out-of-pocket costs for birth control is tied to narrowing the disparity in unintended pregnancy rates between lower- and higher-income women who have employer-sponsored health insurance. The investigators not only found that the birth control benefit reduced unintended pregnancies, but also reduced the rate of women not filling their birth control prescriptions.

Despite the birth control benefit being one small part of the ACA’s broad reforms, the impacts are clear – and backed with data. In the future, when someone asks me what comes to mind when I think about the “ACA,” it won’t be about the fights or the struggle or the chaos. The first thing I’ll think about is the way the law is working to reduce disparities in health care, the fact that more women than ever before can access the birth control of their choosing without worrying about costs, and that the ability to make these decisions allows people to make other important life-impacting decisions, like buying a new car or attending graduate school. If you ever need a reminder that bold legislation can lead to bold change, then come right here. Let’s play a quick game.

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