raising women's voices healthcare rally
Raising Women’s Voices at Healthcare Rally (photo courtesy Raising Women’s Voices)

On November 1, the third enrollment period for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act launched. With the latest enrollment period will also come questions, concerns and worries for those who have yet to enroll for coverage. Groups such as Ms. Foundation for Women grantee partner Raising Women’s Voices are dedicated to making the process of getting and using health insurance easier, especially for women among eligible adults who are still currently uninsured.

Raising Women’s Voices is a national initiative, with leadership from its New York office, the National Women’s Health Network and the Black Women’s Health Imperative, both located in Washington, D.C. Raising Women’s Voices is making sure women’s voices and concerns are addressed as part of the ACA’s policies. Co-founded by Lois Uttley, Byllye Avery and Cindy Pearson, Raising Women’s Voices provides healthcare education, outreach, advocacy and policy work through 31 regional coordinators working in 28 states.

With more than seven million women now enrolled in healthcare coverage under the ACA, the women who still need coverage are one focus for Raising Women’s Voices. Yet RWV also provides assistance to women who have enrolled, and who find understanding and using their healthcare coverage to be even more daunting than enrolling for it.

The confusion and uncertainty about using healthcare services and paying for them, Ms. Uttley explains, is what makes the work of Raising Women’s Voices as vital during the third open enrollment as their work was during previous enrollments.

“We’ve learned that women are excited to apply for new health insurance, but then are very confused about how to use it,” Ms. Uttley says. “Our regional coordinators have been telling us for about a year that lots of women are coming back to them with questions. ‘What’s a deductible?’ ‘What’s a co-pay?’ ‘I didn’t realize I had this huge deductible, so does that mean I can’t use the insurance because I can’t afford the deductible?’ And ‘What women’s health services are covered?”

Raising Women's Voices health guideThose questions and concerns led to RWV creating “My Health, My Voice: A Woman’s Step-by-Step Guide to Using Health Insurance” along with “My Voice, My Health: My Personal Health Journal” for women. With input from RWV’s national coordinating team and their regional coordinators, public health experts, and funding and design support from the Ms. Foundation for Women, the guide and journal are easy-to-use, visually appealing publications that help address the many questions about healthcare and services that women the RWV coordinators work with ask.

Many of the issues the coordinators faced are addressed in the guide. Ms. Uttley notes that the coordinators help women understand why it’s important to make regular visits to their healthcare providers – something especially important for women who never had healthcare coverage before and who only had contact with the healthcare system when they were sick.

raising women's voices co founder lois uttley
Lois Uttley, RWV Co-Founder (courtesy Raising Women’s Voices)

“Women should establish a relationship with the doctor or nurse practitioner,” Ms. Uttley says. “First, it allows you to get to know the doctor. It allows you to have screening tests to see if there any health conditions you need to start addressing, and then to have someone to call when you’re sick. You can also get an appointment [easier], which is more difficult to do when you’re a new patient.”

The other concern women who work with RWV have  is about costs – knowing the difference between deductibles and copays, and knowing which women’s health and preventative services are fully covered, and which are not. The guide provides a section specific to healthcare payments, with examples of preventative care covered in full by healthcare plans.

“One of our coordinators in Atlanta said women come in to their Feminist Women’s Health Center and don’t understand that some of the services they want require a copay or deductible payment,” Ms. Uttley explains. “They’re upset and discouraged. So she said we need to help women understand what’s free under their insurance plans, what has costs and what they can anticipate.”

To spread the word about the guide and journal, Raising Women’s Voices is hosting a webinar on November 9 to promote their campaign. The webinar, co-hosted with the Ms. Foundation, will be an hour long and is open to healthcare providers and advocates, public policy experts and anyone interested in learning more about the ACA and women’s healthcare. The webinar will also be promoted by the U.S. Health and Human Services and such consumer health ally organizations as Community Catalyst In addition to their online outreach, Raising Women’s Voices will also participate in a panel discussion on November 12 in New York City, joined by CUNY Professor Christina Zarcadoolas, Ph.D., one of the public health experts who helped ensure that the guide is suitable for women with low literacy levels.

Raising Women’s Voices will also offer an Internet-friendly version of the guide, through myhealthmyvoice.com. The guide is currently being translated into Spanish with a separate launch planned for late 2015 or early 2016, along with an online adaptation of the health journal to follow.

Last, Raising Women’s Voices’ work beyond the guide continues. As part of their efforts to make sure the ACA is serving diverse women, LGBTQ people and their families, Ms. Uttley states RWV will provide comments on proposed regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act, section 1557, related to nondiscrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The section is a huge step forward in that it’s the first federal law to prohibit sex discrimination in healthcare coverage and delivery. So it’s very important to have good, strong regulations implementing that section,” she notes. “The language is needed to explain to affected entities exactly what it means. We fully expect the Obama administration to issue final regulations in early to mid-2016.”

To learn more about Raising Women’s Voices and their efforts to increase health access, policy and literacy for women, visit their site at http://www.raisingwomensvoices.net.


See:     My Health, My Voice: A Woman’s Step-by-Step Guide to Using Health Insurance

Join:    Raising Women’s Voices webinar on November 9 from 2:00pm-3:00pm EST