Every Woman, Every Time…Cada Mujer, Cada Vez

What a difference a year makes. It was only a year ago that I said 2013 was “The Year of the Woman” and asked ob-gyns around the nation to lead efforts on behalf of women’s health. We saw a rocky start to the Affordable Care Act, yet as ob-gyns we have appreciated that so much of what we value for our patients is now considered a health benefit:  cervical and breast cancer screening, preconception health, maternity care.

The challenge in front of us is to provide care, lead change efforts in our hospitals and communities, and sustain our practices. At times it is daunting. This last year, we heard your concerns and worked on your behalf to improve our care delivery, to empower safety efforts, and to challenge those who fight reproductive health access, payment reforms and medical liability reform. We have worked hard to keep legislators out of our exam rooms!

A year ago I introduced a mantra that reinforces all that we hold dear: Every Woman, Every Time. For every woman, at every encounter in our health care delivery system, we need to help her achieve optimal health and wellness in the context of reproductive choices. This year has seen uncertainty and changes in health care delivery. I challenged all of us as ACOG Fellows to take the lead, because the changes in medicine will come at a cost that requires each and every one of us to foster change and collaboration.

No longer can we sit back and let change happen. Rather, we need to direct the changes, to lead the transformation that places women first. Only if we place the focus on quality, on service and on attaining health care access for all women will our practices—and our skills—flourish. By making women our focus, we will succeed. This past year, ACOG led a well-woman task force, to achieve consistency in well-woman care across all medical providers. We have opportunities to share with colleagues in internal medicine, pediatrics and family practice, and with our partners who are nurse midwives and nurse practitioners, in all aspects of well-woman care.

It has been an honor to represent the most wonderful specialty, both here and abroad. ACOG has a strong voice—in the halls of Congress, amongst our colleagues across the US, and amongst our sister organizations around the world. We are leaders.

ACOG relies on the work of all our Fellows. I thank each and every one of you for the gift of this year, to represent women, to represent Fellows, to represent ACOG

For Every Woman, Every Time.

HIV Screening Should Be Routine

This past Sunday marked World AIDS Day. The truth is every day is a good day for us to encourage our patients to know their HIV status and to educate women on ways to reduce their risk of infection.

Some facts: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women account for 20% of all new HIV infections each year. Most women with HIV (84%) are infected through heterosexual sex. The remaining women acquire HIV through intravenous drug use. Of the more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV today, almost 24% of them are women. Unfortunately, women of color, particularly African-American women, continue to be disproportionately impacted by HIV and AIDS. Even though black women make up only 13% of the total US population, they account for 64% of all new infections each year.

A few years ago, many physicians probably screened patients for HIV only if they were high risk, were pregnant, or requested the test. Today, I believe that is changing. ACOG’s guidelines issued in 2008 recommend that ob-gyns routinely screen all our patients between the ages of 19 and 64 for HIV, regardless of their individual risk factors. Sexually active women younger than age 19 and women older than 64 who have had multiple partners in recent years should also be tested.

A lot of progress has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, but we haven’t won the war yet. Approximately one-quarter of Americans who have HIV don’t know it. The best defense our patients have is knowing their HIV status. Women who know that they are HIV-positive can take steps to reduce HIV-related illnesses, avoid unintended pregnancy, and protect their sexual partners from infection. Another benefit is that pregnant women who know their status can greatly reduce the risk of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (to less than 2%) by taking antiretroviral therapy.

My hope is that as more women gain health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, more of them will get tested for HIV and receive appropriate health care. Getting more people tested and receiving treatment for HIV will go a long way in preventing new infections. As ob-gyns, we must increase our efforts to routinely screen all our patients for HIV, particularly in areas where HIV infection rates are highest.

Men’s Health Matters to Ob-Gyns

“Movember.” That’s the subject line of a recent email that landed in my inbox.

Movember?

My first reaction was that this was a misspelling. Then I thought, what the heck is that? It turns out that my male ob-gyn colleagues have decided to draw attention to men’s health by shaving their mustaches and beards at the start of the month. They’re having a contest to judge who grows the best mustache and beard by month’s end, all in the spirit of men’s health. Why? They want to ‘change the face’ of men’s health through awareness and education.

Launched in 2003 in Australia, Movember is now a global effort in which men grow a “Mo” (moustache) for 30 days during the month of November in an effort to raise awareness about men’s health.

What better way to raise awareness of men’s health than through ob-gyns? After all, we know that women tend to make health care decisions for the family, and often a woman is the one to bring (or drag!) her partner or parent in to the doctor for care. Perhaps if we share some men’s health statistics with our patients, the messages will reach more men. Movember has certainly created a buzz around my entire department, and often that “buzzzzzz” is the key to messaging.

Here are some key messages about men’s health to consider (from the us.movember.com website):

  • 24% of men are less likely to go to the doctor compared with women.
  • 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in his lifetime. In 2013, more than 238,000 new cases of the disease will be diagnosed and almost 30,000 men will die from it.
  • Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in males between the ages of 15 and 35. In 2013, 7,920 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer and 370 will die from it.
  • 1 in 13 men will be diagnosed with lung cancer in his lifetime.
  • While not common, men can get breast cancer. About 2,240 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed among men and about 410 will die from it in 2013.
  • An estimated 13 million men, or 11.8% of all men over the age of 20, have diabetes.
  • More than 6 million men are diagnosed with depression each year. Almost four times as many males as females die by suicide each year.

As arguments continue around the Affordable Care Act, my message remains consistent: Prevention matters. We need to do everything we can to make healthy lifestyle choices for ourselves and our families. Regardless of whether it’s a male or a female, whether it’s prenatal care for a woman or aneurysm screening for a man—preventive health care is an investment in this AND future generations. Preventive health care is something we should all support.

New Contraception Counseling Aid Available for Ob-Gyns

As I said in my presidential address at the Annual Clinical Meeting in May, we need to address reproductive health and well-woman care at every single point of contact that women have in our health care system. If we are going to be successful in reducing the high rates of unplanned pregnancies in this country and all of the related maternal and infant health problems that go along with them, then we really only have one option: We must counsel and encourage all of our patients to use effective contraception.

The good news is that more women will have health insurance as the Affordable Care Act continues its roll-out. And under the ACA, more good news: Women now have access to all FDA-approved contraceptives without a co-pay. Coinciding with this, a new ACOG Committee Opinion in the November Obstetrics & Gynecology endorses the CDC’s US Selected Practice Recommendations for Contraceptive Use, 2013 (US SPR). The US SPR helps ob-gyns and other providers counsel our patients about how to use these contraceptives most effectively. This is a companion piece to the US Medical Eligibility Criteria for Contraceptive Use, 2010 (US MEC) that ACOG endorsed in a 2011 Committee Opinion. The US MEC provides guidance for determining which contraceptives are safe for women who have certain medical conditions.

The US SPR is arranged by contraceptive method and is easy to follow. It addresses a host of common as well as complicated issues related to contraceptive use that both doctors and patients may encounter. For instance, it provides guidance on which specific exams and tests we need to provide before prescribing a particular contraceptive method. It helps us advise our patients about exactly what do when they forget to take their daily birth control pill or are late in returning for their next injectable contraceptive. It also explains how to deal with side effects, such as breakthrough bleeding, and when and for how long to use backup contraception.

I think one of the many important points contained in the US SPR is that any contraceptive method can be started at any time during the menstrual cycle, as long as there is reasonable certainty that a woman is not pregnant.

I encourage you to read through and utilize both the US SPR and the US MEC. An eBook for the US SPR will be available soon. As I said at the ACM: Whether it’s a pill, patch, ring, injection, implant, insertable, or a ligation, we can address reproductive health for what it represents—an investment in our future.

Every Woman, Every Time. It’s up to us.

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ACOG and ACA: Investing in Women’s Health

As many of you know, I started my ACOG presidency announcing 2013 as “The Year of the Woman” because for the first time we, as a nation, are investing in women’s health care with the Affordable Care Act. It is an investment in our future when we provide all women with preconception care, prenatal care, and contraception.

I spent last week in Washington, DC, discussing the impact of environmental chemicals on our reproductive health with our elected officials. And what a week it was! I saw firsthand the dedication of the furloughed employees who were trying to help everyone. I heard the frustration of many DC residents as they faced reduced work hours and uncertainty about what the next day or week will bring.

Amidst all of this chaos, the ACA’s health insurance exchanges opened for business. Yes, there are going to be some difficulties along the road with implementing health care reform, but there will be fewer of them when we work together to make health care changes a success.

I was in the hair salon recently and found out that the women working there had no health coverage. I opened my iPad and showed them how to enroll in Covered California. In no time, they logged in, found affordable benefits, and were singing its praises. These are working women who had gone without coverage because they could not afford it and their small businesses did not provide health benefits. All of these women—some young, some single moms—all shared one uncertainty: What would they do if they became sick? They had not even considered getting preventive health care.

We need our government to open for business, we need to work on our health care delivery system, and we need to remind everyone that women are finally getting what we said is essential all along: Screening for cervical and breast cancer, screening for intimate partner violence and depression, contraception coverage, and prenatal care. Worrying about not being able to afford or even get health insurance because of a pre-existing condition can now be a thing of the past. Losing your health insurance coverage during the course of a difficult disease when you need it the most can also be a worry of the past. What a wonderful year!

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Finally, Women’s Health Gets Its Due

It is an amazing time for women in the US. The recent passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) shows that women’s health has been embraced as a national priority. Implementation of this landmark legislation will improve and expand health care for millions of women. From yearly well-woman visits to cancer screenings and domestic violence screening and counseling, to breastfeeding support and contraceptive coverage, more women’s health services will be accessible and affordable than ever before.

It’s with this backdrop that I take the reins as president of The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and I couldn’t be more excited. As a nation, we’re finally recognizing that health care is about more than solving accute health crises. It’s about promoting wellness to prevent disease. For ob-gyns, providing top-notch health care includes having meaningful interactions with women and providing them tools not only to maintain their physical health, but to improve their physical, mental, and emotional health, too.

Ob-gyns will be greatly affected by the new law, but we’ll also have a chance to make a great impact. We will be gaining new patients and collaborating with colleagues to optimize their health. We should strive to make the most of these patient-doctor visits and encourage women to put their health first—take advantage of the services ACA offers; get preexisting health conditions under control; make time for eating right, exercise, and the stress-relieving activities that they enjoy. These are fundamental health reminders that we must convey to every woman, every time.

As an ob-gyn, I believe that no medical specialty knows women’s health better than we do. We have a duty to speak up in the best interest of women’s health. During my year as ACOG president, I plan to take every opportunity to advocate for women. I challenge ACOG Fellows to let your voices be heard as well. Talk to your legislators and your community about women’s health, but most of all, talk to your patients. Working with them one-on-one to build the foundation for a healthier future is where we can make the biggest difference.

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Guest Blog: Every Reproductive-Age Woman At Risk, Every Time

Frances Casey, MD

Frances Casey, MD

Full implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will remove many of the financial barriers women face to obtain effective methods of contraception. While making contraception affordable for every woman is a good first step toward improved prevention of unintended pregnancies, it remains the responsibility of health care providers to counsel women about all methods of contraception and help them find the one that may be the most effective.

The CHOICE project demonstrated that removing financial barriers related to the most effective methods of contraception decreases rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. But the CHOICE project also did something many of us ob-gyns do not. Every reproductive-age woman eligible for the study was read a script about the effectiveness of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC), such as intrauterine devices (IUD) and hormonal implants.Instead of discussing LARC with their patients, many providers continue recommending less effective contraceptive methods based on misconceptions that adolescents, women who have never been pregnant, or women they estimate are at high risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are not good candidates for LARCs. However, according to ACOG, LARC is the most effective form of contraception available and safe for use in all of these groups.

Because LARCs don’t require ongoing effort by the user, continuation and correct usage rates are higher. This could significantly reduce unintended pregnancy among teens and women if widely adopted. Additionally, women at high risk of both STIs and unintended pregnancy can be screened, obtain a LARC method the same day, and receive treatment without removing the device. Women with medical conditions and physical and mental disabilities can also benefit from both the pregnancy prevention and the non-contraceptive benefits of LARC.

Other women may also benefit from a longer-acting option. Without strict breastfeeding, postpartum moms are at risk for ovulation and repeat pregnancies even earlier than six weeks after delivery. LARC methods can be inserted immediately following delivery or at four weeks postpartum. Despite slightly higher expulsion rates, the benefits of immediate postpartum insertion of LARC methods may outweigh risks for women who are unlikely to receive postpartum care.

Minimizing financial barriers will make contraceptive methods more accessible for women at risk of unintended pregnancies, but it is up to us, as their partners in prevention, to counsel them on the most effective methods, including LARCs, at every opportunity.

Frances Casey, MD, is a Family Planning Fellow at Washington Hospital Center in DC.

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Guest Blog: With the ACA, Many Ounces of Prevention

Barbara S. Levy, MD

Barbara S. Levy, MD

Have you ever heard the phrase “an ounce of prevention = a pound of cure”? It’s an often-used mantra in the medical community and a message we continuously repeat to our patients. That’s because intervention through prevention makes good sense. In many cases, catastrophic illness can be avoided by nipping small problems in the bud or diagnosing and treating disease early. In addition to living a healthy lifestyle, regularly visiting your doctor for routine screenings and counseling is paramount to achieving this goal.

As women, we are often the primary (or sole) caregiver for our families—not to mention the cook, head nurse, and chief financial officer among many other roles. Without a second thought, we may put the needs of others before our own. This is especially true if money is tight and it’s a decision between getting an annual well-woman exam, paying $50 for a birth control prescription, or meeting the needs of a child, spouse, parent, or friend. But this philosophy doesn’t serve women well—if you’re sick, who will look after the people you care about?

The Affordable Care Act (ACA)—the new US law that expands health care coverage by making health care more affordable and accessible—focuses on expanded access to preventive services. Making preventive services available for little or no out-of-pocket cost makes it easier for women to do the right thing for their health and put themselves first. As I discussed in my last post, a growing number of women are now eligible to receive contraception and other preventive health services without a co-pay.

Preventive services that are now covered include:

  • Annual well-woman visit
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing
  • Preventive vaccinations including HPV, flu, hepatitis A & B, shingles, and chicken pox
  • Sexually transmitted disease prevention counseling
  • Obesity screening and counseling
  • Smoking cessation
  • Depression screening

The ACA chips away at many of the barriers to access and care that women have faced for years. Here at ACOG, we’re closely monitoring the implementation of the law and will continue to advocate for comprehensive care for the women we serve. I believe this legislation is a major step in the right direction to improving women’s health and improving health outcomes for all Americans.

Check out these links to learn more about ACA and how it will affect you:

Prevention, Wellness, and Comparing Providers (HealthCare.gov)

Benefits for Women and Children of New Affordable Care Act Rules on Expanding Prevention Coverage (HealthCare.gov)

Effective Date: Women’s Preventive Health Coverage Requirements (ACOG)

Barbara S. Levy, MD, is vice president of health policy at ACOG.

Guest Blog: The Co-Pay Question—Contraceptive Access Under the ACA

Barbara S. Levy, MD

Barbara S. Levy, MD

If you’ve been to the pharmacy or doctor’s office lately, there’s a good chance that you noticed something different about your bill—there may not have been one. Depending on what type of insurance you have, you may now be eligible to receive all FDA-approved contraception and other preventive health services without a co-pay. This is due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a law with a lofty goal: overhauling our current health care system to provide the majority of Americans with affordable access to health care. While the intricacies of the ACA—and health insurance policies—are complex, it’s important for women to understand these most recent changes because they so specifically apply to us.

Whether or not you still have a co-pay for contraceptives depends on where you get your health insurance. More than half of people in the US get their insurance either through their job or by purchasing an individual insurance plan. Currently, the contraceptive coverage provision applies to most of these private plans. Insurance companies that adopted ACA policy changes early on may have already updated their plans to offer free contraception beginning in August 2012. As time passes, more plans will comply. However, there are some exceptions—some plans have grandfathered status that gives them more time to meet the terms of the new requirements, and some religiously affiliated organizations are currently exempt from providing this coverage.

State Medicaid programs already provide no-cost contraception to enrollees. The ACA expands Medicaid’s reach, potentially decreasing the number of uninsured women ages 19–64 from 20% to 8%. Many states are still hammering out exactly how Medicaid provisions will be implemented. ACOG is following this issue closely and supports the adoption of the ACA’s Medicaid expansion in all states.

So how can you find out whether your plan has changed and what new services are covered? You’ll need to ask a few questions and then update your records to be sure your health care team (you, your insurer, pharmacy, and your doctor) is on the same page:

  • Ask your employer or your health insurer whether the ACA has caused any significant changes to your plan. If so, what are they, and specifically, is contraception now covered without a co-pay?
  • If there are updates to your plan, be sure to notify your pharmacy and your doctor’s office and report any problems to your plan administrator or insurance company. It’s up to you to be sure you’re being charged correctly based on what your policy covers.

As an ob-gyn, I am thrilled by the increased availability of no-cost contraception that the ACA provides. Contraception is a basic health necessity for women. More access puts women in the driver’s seat, helping us avoid unintended pregnancy and take control of our reproductive health.

Learn more about contraceptive coverage and the ACA.

Barbara S. Levy, MD, is vice president of health policy at ACOG.