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(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) spoke on the Senate floor today to highlight the new preventive health benefits that will be available to women under the Affordable Care Act starting tomorrow, August 1. The law guarantees women affordable access to services such as annual breast exams, gestational diabetes screenings and contraception.

Below are Shaheen’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, in December 2009 I joined Senator Mikulski on the floor during consideration of the Affordable Care Act as a proud cosponsor of her women’s health amendment.   Once again, I am honored to stand with such a great champion for this cause to celebrate that, starting tomorrow, women will have access important health services at no cost.

Studies show that women are more likely than men to forgo needed health care because of cost.  Too often, problems with medical bills and medical debt force women to make difficult financial decisions between health care, savings, credit card debt, mortgages and basic necessities.  

But now, thanks to the provisions going into effect this week, women will have access to a wide range of preventive services – from well women and prenatal visits to gestational diabetes screenings – without co-payments or deductibles.   

This will make a real and lasting difference for every woman across this country who can be to be screened for HIV, get a flu shot or receive DNA testing for certain cancers at no cost.  Finances will no longer stand in their way.

This also has the potential to save our health system money in the long run.  The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 75 percent of our health care spending is on people with chronic disease.  By taking preventive measures, we can slow this growth and the associated cost of disease.

As co-chair of the Senate Diabetes Caucus, I understand the importance of gestational diabetes screening and the impact it can have on both the mother and baby.  Gestational diabetes affects almost 18 percent of all pregnancies in the United States and the number of cases is increasing steadily.  

The consequence of gestational diabetes are real – not only are there significant health impacts for the mother and baby during pregnancy, but researchers have found that both the mother and baby may be at risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. By getting screened, both the mother and child can be alerted to potential long term health risks.  

Take for example, Megan from Penacook, New Hampshire.  During her 28th week of pregnancy, Megan was diagnosed with gestational diabetes.  The screening she had alerted her to the potential related health issues and allowed her to get the necessary treatment.  I am happy to report that Megan gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Grace, who is now eight weeks old.  Under Affordable Care Act all pregnant women will now be able to receive the gestational diabetes screening for free.

Tomorrow also marks an important milestone in women’s health:  women will also have access to contraception at no cost.  

Birth control is something that most women use and it is something that the medical community believes is essential to the health of a woman and her family.  Not only does it help prevent unintended pregnancies, but it helps plan the timing and size of families—something that is linked to better health outcomes for women and their children.

And, for some 1.5 million women, birth control pills are not used for contraception, but for medical purposes and can reduce the risk of some cancers.  

With costs as high as $600 a year, birth control can be a serious economic concern for women.  Being able to now receive birth control for no cost will bring financial relief.

Keri Wolfe from Swanzey, New Hampshire is a full time graduate student at Dartmouth who will benefit from this provision of the law.  Keri takes birth control as a medical necessity for treating an endocrine health issue that impacts her adrenal glands.  While Keri is lucky to have insurance, she must pay her plan’s full deductible and then a monthly co-pay for her birth control.   As a student who is trying to balance academic and living expenses, her prescription comes at a significant annual cost.  When her new insurance plan goes into effect, Keri will be able to get the full price of her birth control covered.

As Governor of New Hampshire, I was proud to sign legislation requiring insurance companies to provide contraception coverage to women with no religious exemptions.  

At that time, it was understood by people on both sides of the aisle-- of all religious faiths-- that requiring contraceptive coverage was about women’s health and a basic health care decision.   

Yet over the last several months, opponents have continued to roll back contraceptive coverage at both the state and federal level.  Every woman should be able to make her own health care decision and not have her boss stand in her way.

I thank Senator Mikulski for her leadership in women’s health and join her in celebrating these important provisions that will make a huge difference for women’s health.