Amid the hundreds of provisions of the federal health care reform law are some key game changers for women.

Here are four of the biggest ones:

1. No more gender rating

Today in most states women pay more for health insurance than men, simply because they are female. The premium gap stems from a practice known as gender rating. Women get higher health insurance quotes than men when applying for individual coverage, and employers with predominantly female workforces are often charged more than those that employ mostly men.

Fourteen states have banned or limited gender rating in the individual market, and 17 states banned or limited the practice for group health plans, according to the National Women's Law Center.

But in other states, the practice is widespread. In a 2012 study, the National Women's Law Center found almost a third of plans in those states charged 25- and 40-year-old women at least 30 percent more than men for the same coverage, with maternity coverage excluded.

Starting in 2014, health insurance companies will not be able to consider gender when setting rates for health insurance.

2. All health insurance plans to include maternity care

All health plans sold through the state health insurance exchanges will have to include maternity coverage starting in 2014. Today most employer-sponsored health plans include maternity coverage. But it's tough to find an individual health insurance plan that offers maternity coverage, unless you live in one of 12 states that mandates some or all individual health plans to include it.

3. No co-pays for birth control and other preventive care

Under the health care reform law, new health plans must fully cover preventive care. That means you don't have to pay a deductible, co-payment or coinsurance to receive them. Starting in August 2012, those preventive services will include a variety of important benefits just for women, including birth control, well-woman doctor visits and breastfeeding support services. A list of preventive services for women is available at These are in addition to a slew of other preventive services that health plans already must fully cover, such as routine screenings and immunizations.

4. Access to coverage, even if you're pregnant

Starting in 2014, health insurance companies can't deny you coverage or charge you a higher premium if you have a health condition. That means you can buy health insurance with maternity coverage even if you're already pregnant.

Regardless of your political leanings on the health care reform law, understand the changes that are coming, so you know your rights and responsibilities as provisions go into effect.