You've been hearing about the Affordable Care Act for years, but its benefits for women are just now starting to roll in.

FREE BIRTH CONTROL: Many employer-sponsored and private insurance plans are now required to offer preventive services, such as birth control and HPV screenings, at no cost.

LESS-EXPENSIVE HEALTH INSURANCE: As of October 1, the Health Insurance Marketplace opens for business. The site allows individuals who don't have employer-sponsored insurance (including those who are self-employed and unemployed) to enroll in policies that may cost much less than what they typically cost now. Depending on your income, you may also be eligible for a tax credit to help pay for your insurance. (Americans will need to have health insurance in 2014 or risk paying a fine.)

NO PENALTIES FOR BEING FEMALE: When the act is fully implemented, women will no longer be charged more than men for insurance or turned down for coverage because of pre-existing conditions. (Believe it or not, some current policies consider domestic-violence injuries and C-sections to fall in that category.)

MORE WIDELY AVAILABLE COVERAGE: Starting in 2015, employers with 50 or more workers will be required to offer employees insurance or may have to pay a penalty, while smaller businesses may choose to do so in order to take advantage of new tax credits. To see how the act will affect you or your company, visit healthcare.gov.

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