Written by: Robert Walker, Executive Vice President, Population Institute
In a world accustomed to hearing bad news, good news can sometime fall on deaf ears. And so it is with the recent decision by Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to require most health insurance companies, as part of the new health care law, to cover family planning services without any required copay.
In taking this step, Sebelius was approving a recommendation made by the Institute of Medicine, which earlier this summer urged that birth control be included in a package of “preventive services” that insurance companies should be required to cover without asking patients to pay out-of-pocket costs.
This new regulation, which doesn’t take effect for one year, is a tremendous victory for women, particularly women of reproductive age, but it has received very little attention in the mainstream media and a less than overwhelming reaction from the women’s rights community.
Maybe that’s because treating contraception as prevention is just common sense. But the triumph of common sense in Washington these days is not very…common.
It also may be a case of “the less said, the better,” on the theory that social conservatives in Congress could still move to block the implementation of this regulation. There was, in fact, some immediate push-back from Congress. Shortly after the announcement, Rep. Steve King rushed to the House floor to make the ludicrous assertion that free access to birth control would lead to “a dying civilization.”
But as one who has worked on progressive issues for more than 30 years, and who has witnessed the good times and the bad, I think it’s terribly important for advocates to thank their champions whenever they deliver on their promises.
In this particular case, praise should be lavished on President Obama, Secretary Sebelius, and the Congressional leaders who pushed health care reform over the finish line. Without their leadership, millions of low-income women with health insurance would still be scrambling a year from now to come up with a required copay for birth control pills or other means of contraception.
This new regulation may not have much effect on high-income households that can easily afford those out-of-pocket costs, but most low-income women with health insurance will no longer be forced to decide between birth control and other necessities, like feeding their families or paying the rent. And that’s a profound improvement for women, their families, and their health.
Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and the rate of unintended pregnancy among low-income women is on the rise. An unintended pregnancy—particularly one that is not adequately spaced–can pose significant health risks to some women. This new regulation will make a major contribution to reducing unintended pregnancies.
As a matter of principle, women everywhere should be able to prevent an unintended or unwanted pregnancy, and that certainly applies to the U.S. It’s a basic right. If you care about women’s rights, and particularly reproductive rights, you should be eagerly applauding those who are helping to make those rights a reality.
This new HHS regulation will not go as far as some hoped (there is a limited exemption for plans offered by religious organizations), but it will go a long way towards helping women to give birth by choice, not by chance.
So, if you really care about women’s rights, sit down and write a letter or an email today to thank those who have made this momentous change possible. It may just strengthen their resolve to fight future battles on behalf of the rights and well-being of women. At a time when states like Texas are slashing funding for family planning clinics, we need all the help we can get.
Photo by Ceridwen courtesy of Creative Commons