My Contraception Don’t Cost a Thing: Eliminating Co-Pays for Birth Control & Reproductive Healthcare Victory

Fabulous reproductive justice news!  Just a mere few weeks ago, I wrote about the possibility for free birth control and reproductive health services if the government passed the recommendations released last month by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine (IOM) under the Affordable Care Act passed last September.  Yesterday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) declared groundbreaking new guidelines requiring insurance plans to now cover co-payments for birth control and preventative care.  Huzzah!

So what exactly does this mean?  Starting August 1, 2012 (although many women won’t see the changes go into effect until January 2013), women won’t have to pay out-of-pocket for co-payments or deductibles for covered reproductive health services under their private insurance plans; Medicare recipients will receive these services for free. The preventative services covered include:

  • Annual well-woman preventative care visits
  • Gestational diabetes screening for women 24 to 28 weeks pregnant, and those at high risk of developing gestational diabetes
  • HPV DNA testing for women aged 30 or older every 3 years to help reduce cervical cancer  
  • Annual STI counseling, and HIV screening and counseling
  • Contraception and contraceptive counseling, covering all FDA-approved contraception including emergency contraception (EC)
  • Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling for pregnant and postpartum women who will have access to lactation support and counseling from trained providers as well as equipment such as breast pumps
  • Domestic violence screening and counseling annually to increase the safety of abused women 

Preventative care is essential. Not only does it prove to be more cost-effective in the long run, it contributes to greater health overall. With these guidelines in place, women will be able to prevent and treat cervical cancer and STIs, have healthier babies, obtain contraception, and get support in domestic violence situations.  Many women often forgo their own medical needs, going without routine medical visits and birth control, due to cost. For women living paycheck to paycheck, who have to decide between paying for rent, groceries or diapers, or having to pay co-pays , even if only $5 or $10, can be a huge barrier to access contraception and reproductive care. According to HHS:

“Often because of cost, Americans used preventive services at about half the recommended rate. Yet chronic diseases – which are responsible for 7 of 10 deaths among Americans each year and account for 75% of the nation’s health spending – often are preventable…While women are more likely to need preventive health care services, they often have less ability to pay. On average they have lower incomes than men and a greater share of their income is consumed by out-of-pocket health costs.”

Healthcare is a human right. Yet people with lower incomes and people of color “often have higher rates of disease, fewer treatment options, and reduced access to care.” These guidelines are intended to close these gap in health disparities.  The only problem is that there are still many women who don’t possess any health insurance at all.  According to HHS, “more than 17 million women (nearly one in five) age 18 to 64 are uninsured in the U.S.”  As someone who went without health insurance for years because I couldn’t afford it, I know how nerve-wracking it can be to not be able to receive the treatments and medications you need. Now we need to work on getting people affordable health insurance coverage.

Women have different healthcare needs than men which is why these guidelines focusing on women’s healthcare are so vital. Through my day job, where I coordinate a political training program for grad students at a university women’s center, I’ve had the tremendous opportunity to meet elected officials. During one such event, I heard the articulate and phenomenal Ambassador Carol Moseley Braun speak about her tenure as the first (and sadly only) African-American female elected to the U.S. Senate. She served on the Finance Committee, the first woman to do so.  She shared with us that during one budget debate, her colleagues intended on slashing healthcare, including funding for mammograms.  Ambassador Moseley Braun spoke up about the necessity for screenings, reminding the male senators that their female constituents wouldn’t appreciate their disregard.  Had she not been in the room, crucial funding for women’s health would have been cut.

Women need to be able to have control over their bodies, making their own decisions about their reproductive health.  Money shouldn’t be a factor in people acquiring the medical care they need. Yet far too often it is. While not a panacea, the passage of these guidelines is a ginormous step towards eliminating gendered health disparities. When people can control their reproduction, they lead healthier and happier lives. We need to continue to speak up, by voting and contacting our legislators, to ensure all people have equal access to quality affordable health care.

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