A contraception revolution could be underway following the passage of health care reform, which contains a key provision allowing for women’s preventive care. Covered items could include birth control pills, vaginal rings, intrauterine devices, and patches; the law could also allow for free maternity care and pelvic exams.
But don’t put away your checkbook just yet. For contraception to be fully covered, it must fall under the definition of “preventive care” — and the looming debate over what counts as preventive will likely hinge on morals.
Conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the National Abstinence Education Association, are already coalescing around their opposition to the provision. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), who came close to derailing passage of health reform over concerns that abortion could be included as a covered option, has written to the Department of Health and Human Services detailing their objection.
USCCB spokesman Richard Doerflinger told Minnesota Public Radio that the government should not mandate co-pay-free contraception for all insurance plans, since some members of those plans may object to birth control on moral grounds.
“It’ll be free of co-pay for those that want that coverage, which means it’ll be subsidized by those who don’t want the coverage,” Doerflinger said.
Covered birth control, however, could make economic sense for a population squeezed by recession. Women often spend $50 a month for birth control, while more reliable intrauterine devices (favored in countries that enjoy lower rates of abortion) cost $200 to $400.
Individual budgeting aside, the move could result in major savings for the U.S. economy, according to 2009 numbers from the Guttmacher Institute. The reproductive research group found that publicly-funded contraception saves taxpayers $4 for every $1 spent, preventing nearly 2 million pregnancies and 810,000 abortions every year. This could be a wise move for a country whose abortion rates are among the highest in the developed world.
The Department of Health and Human Services has asked the independent Institute of Medicine to parse through the health care legislation and recommend which elements of women’s care should be covered. The debate begins this month, with a final recommendation due August 1, 2011. HHS, with pro-choice Kathleen Sebelius as head, is expected to respond in favor of the provision, provided they can withstand pressure from conservative groups.
To gain support, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has launched a campaign, Birth Control Matters, which includes the commissioning of a poll to gauge popular support of covered birth control. Poll results show that 81% of women and 60% of men agree that contraception should be considered preventive.
We’ll be keeping our eyes on the debate, so stay tuned for updates. In the meantime, take our poll and let us know what YOU think!