Nicole Antonucci/Recorder staff New York Oncology and Hematology Executive Director Ed Graham and Dr. Arsyl DeJesus speak to U.S Rep. Paul Tonko Monday during a discussion on the Affordable Care Act at the New York Oncology and Hematology Amsterdam Cancer Center at the Riverfront Center in Amsterdam.
By NICOLE ANTONUCCI
Local health care providers, patients, researchers and administrators gathered with U.S Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, Monday to speak about how the Affordable Care Act is helping to improve health care for women in the region.
The discussion was held at the New York Oncology Hematology Amsterdam Cancer Center at the Riverfront Center, and focused on how the Affordable Care Act provides more opportunities for women in obtaining affordable and accessible health care.
In his district, Tonko said there are 314,000 individuals, including 54,000 children and 137,000 women, who now have health insurance that covers preventative services without any co-pays, coinsurance or deductibles.
"Rather than forcing Americans to suffer and pay skyrocketing bills down the line, ACA makes prevention affordable and accessible for all Americans," Tonko said.
He said the law guarantees access to birth control, mammograms, cancer screenings and well-women visits without deductibles or co-pays.
Pregnancy is no longer considered a pre-existing condition, so women who become pregnant can no longer be dropped from their insurance.
"Imagine how many women were denied coverage because they had multiple pregnancies," Tonko said. "Studies have shown when preventive services have even moderate co-pays it results in fewer women obtaining potentially life saving care due to those costs."
American Association of University Women Public Policy Chairwoman Linda Rizzo of the organization's Schenectady branch said in addition to preventative services, the Affordable Care Act stops gender rating, or making women obtain insurance at a higher rate; prohibits insurers from dropping patients with pre-existing conditions; allows children to be on their parents' policy until the age of 26; and providing women with reproductive health services.
"These things are important because without them, we would be going backward rather than forward," she said.
National Planned Parenthood Spokeswoman and cancer survivor Colleen Luther said she knows first hand how important it is to have health care.
Eleven years ago, at the age of 27, Luther said she had found a lump in her breast.
However, because she had no health insurance, she said was unable to afford the out-of-pocket costs for testing from a regular physician. Luther went to Planned Parenthood. Not only did they pay for the testing she needed, they helped her get the treatment. She has since been in remission for 11 years.
The roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, she said, means more women no longer have to worry.
"It makes me happy that I no longer have to worry because I am covered. I don't have to worry because my mother is covered. I don't have to worry because my sister is covered," Luther said. "Security at all ages of life is what ACA is about. Women no longer have to worry when they get sick."
New York Oncology and Hematology Executive Director Ed Graham said more patients are getting care than before, adding that since the roll-out of the Affordable Care Act, there has been a notable increase in patients at the cancer center.
"This has become a gateway, so what we are having is people not entering into the system much later stage, when the options are fewer, and economically it will be more costly," Graham said. "For us to play a role, advancing and ensuring people have access to care at an earlier stage, which allows for better diagnosis at an earlier stage, better treatment and better outcomes, we are thrilled."
Radiation Oncologist Dr. Arsyl DeJesus spoke about the $3 million investment the cancer center has recently made to provide technology that will help local residents stay close to home.
"The ACA is also a large investment to provide access to health care for women, especially in preventative care," she said, adding as an oncologist, she knows how important early detection can be. "Like investments that NYOH is making those same women have access to the very best cancer treatments. These investments will save lives."