Free birth control coverage? Not so fast...
Regardless of your political interest or stance, it’s becoming increasingly hard to ignore the splash caused by the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress this past March. The much debated act has finally gotten the ball rolling on health care reform in the US and has shone a crucial light on the current state of women’s health, which has been in desperate need of some TLC.
Overall, the Affordable Care Act seeks to reform health insurance companies in favor of patients. It would ban lifetime limits that affect people with long-term or chronic illnesses, cover young adults on their parent’s plan until the age of 26 (this provision has recently been put into place), and prohibit discrimination against children with pre-existing conditions – basically, get rid of all the jerky things that insurance companies have been able to get away with. Yeah, we’ve had enough of that, too. The more controversial aspects of the plan are included under the umbrella of women’s preventative care – like covering contraception without co-pays, which we’re pretty excited about. Since all of this legal jargon can be tricky even for the Pre-Law students among us, we’ve broken down the things we think every woman should know about the Affordable Care Act, and possible threats to it.
- Allow for annual “Well-Woman” visits, covering all age and developmentally appropriate services
- Provide testing for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Gestational Diabetes
- Provide testing and counseling for HIV and other STIs
- Cover all FDA approved forms of contraception, sterilization procedures, and reproductive education and counseling without co-pay, deductible, or other charges
2. Supporting the Bill
Supporters of the new preventative care measures base their reinforcement of the bill on the following facts:
- A 2001 study found that half of all pregnancies in the US were unintended. The largest roadblock to contraception for many women is cost (averaging $10 to $50 per month, which isn’t exactly pocket change). Free access to birth control would allow for family planning and place greater emphasis on healthy families.
- The plan would support the status quo on abortion policy (no federal money will be used to fund abortions and health plans cannot be required to fund abortion). All contraceptive measures covered will prevent pregnancy, but will not terminate an existing pregnancy.
- Allowing personal beliefs to determine what will or will not be covered by health plans undermines the purpose of health insurance. According to Adam Sconfield of the Guttmacher Institute, “You would have people questioning treating lung cancer for smokers or accident victims of a motorcycle wreck, or objecting to people having too many kids." Well said.
3. The Opposition
Of course, a change as momentous as this is likely to draw a few adversaries. This is especially pronounced in cases where religious institutions provide health insurance to their employees. Major arguments against contraceptive coverage include:
- Contraception should not be included under preventative care because pregnancy is not a disease.
- People against abortion shouldn’t be asked to subsidize methods they believe can cause abortions (which, they claim, happens through their insurance premiums).
- More contraception doesn’t necessarily lead to fewer unplanned pregnancies and abortions.
The plan currently offers a narrow religious refusal clause (often called a conscience clause), which allows certain religious institutions to exclude contraception from the insurance plans that they offer to their employees. This clause would apply to an institution that “has inculcation of religious values as its purpose” and primarily serves and employs people that share its religious beliefs. Basically, it exempts institutions such as churches, but not religiously affiliated hospitals, schools, or universities (such as, ahem, Boston College). The Obama administration is currently under pressure to add a wider refusal clause that would exempt these institutions from having to provide this benefit to their employees and students.
4. So what would change at BC, exactly?
Well, not as much as we may hope, but it’s a start. Massachusetts state law already requires all MA medical insurance plans (including student plans) to offer prescription drug coverage, including contraceptive drug consultations and prescriptions. For the average BC woman, this means that contraception would at least be partially covered under BC’s health insurance either way and the student is charged a co-pay. But the exciting part would come in at the register, when we can put our already-scarce college student funds towards more worthwhile means than co-pays on birth control. These changes would be even more drastic to women in states without state laws that mandate these provisions – say, our friends over at Notre Dame. While BC can still refuse to prescribe or distribute birth control pills in Health Services (boo), their student insurance plans would have to completely cover the entire cost of contraception if a student seeks these services elsewhere (yay!).
But don’t put your wallet away just yet. If the opposition’s refusal clause succeeds, plans like Boston College insurance would no longer be obligated to cover the full cost of contraception. To fight the pending broader refusal clause, and to stand up for the rights the federal government is announcing that all women should have, sign Amplify Your Voice’s “Obama, Don’t Cave” Petition.
Regardless of your personal stance on the issue, we applaud the Obama administration for striving towards loophole-free protection of women’s health, and for finally taking a firm federal stance on women’s reproductive rights. Our health (...and our rights...and our wallets) is thankful.
Peace, love, and lube
BC Students for Sexual Health