Like many college-age women, I needed birth control. But when I was a student at the University of Notre Dame in 2004, it wasn’t readily available to me. Notre Dame, after all, is a Catholic institution that does not promote the use of contraceptives.
So, my mother sent me birth control in the mail every month until I graduated in 2008. I have friends who were grilled by the health center on campus about why they needed contraception, and they often had to wait weeks to get it if they could prove that they needed it for a “medical purpose.”
Once President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law and the contraception mandate was implemented in 2012, I was relieved that most employers would have to provide co-pay free birth control as a part of their health plans. Women rely on contraception for a multitude of health reasons, including family planning.
But Notre Dame fought the mandate in court. Ultimately, it was forced to comply — until this year.
In early October, the Trump administration announced it would allow a broader group of employers and insurers to exempt themselves from covering contraceptives on religious or moral grounds. In a letter distributed to employees and students, Notre Dame said it would stop providing birth control coverage at the end of the year.
Then, last week, the university reversed its decision, noting that it employs people who are not Catholic. Confusing, right? Imagine being a student or employee there.
As an alum, I am furious, disappointed and concerned for the thousands of women attending and working at the university. If Notre Dame flip-flopped once, there’s no guarantee it won’t change its mind again in the future. However, amid the chaos, it’s important for Notre Dame’s employees and students — and women nationwide — to know what services they’re still guaranteed under the ACA, despite the Trump administration’s attempts to sabotage it.
Even with the purposeful chaos and distraction surrounding health care, women can take advantage of the preventive services that are available now. These services are available to women across the United States at no cost if they are insured:
- An annual well-woman visit
- Screening for breast cancer, cervical cancer, gestational diabetes mellitus and HIV infection
- Breastfeeding services and supplies
- Screening for interpersonal and domestic violence
- Counseling for sexually transmitted infections
The first step to accessing this range of services is to get health insurance coverage. If you aren’t eligible to receive employer-provided health benefits and earn less than $48,240 as a single person, $64,960 for a family of two, or $98,400 for a family of four, you qualify for coverage through Medicaid or for subsidies to help make insurance premiums affordable.
Go to healthcare.gov to sign up during open enrollment, which is between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15. After you’ve enrolled, schedule your 2018 well-woman visit to speak with your doctor about what preventive services are right for you.
All of us are on the go all day, every day, and when our health is an issue, it adds so much stress and anxiety. That’s why the preventive services at no cost are so important. They help women — and men, as well as transgender and gender non-conforming individuals — have peace of mind about what’s going on with their bodies.
This is something everyone cares about. When I served as deputy executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, I met with countless women who told me stories about how early detection caught illnesses — such as breast and cervical cancer — at stages when they were treatable. And although I’m just 31, early screenings have uncovered issues that enabled me to take action to protect my health and avert potentially serious problems down the road.
The best way to fight back if you’re fed up by the Trump administration’s attempts to restrict access to care is to sign up for ACA coverage. You’ll remind them that this law is essential to the well-being of Americans everywhere. All the chaos and sabotage they’re trying to create cannot change that.