This article appeared in the Concord Monitor.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the approval of the birth control pill. Yet for millions of women, the price is just too high, making birth control simply out of reach.
Fortunately, a provision in the new health care law may allow all FDA-approved prescription contraception to be fully covered by new health plans. That means that women may not need to find cash co-payments or out-of-pocket payments for prescription birth control.
Under the new law, insurance plans will be required to fully cover women's preventive health care services without requiring any co-pays. Over the next year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services will decide which benefits will be covered at no cost for women.
We at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, including our physicians, nurses and health professionals who see patients every day, and leading medical organizations such as the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, believe that prescription birth control should be covered with no co-pays, so that more women can afford the method of birth control that works best for them.
This potential change in policy is so simple but so far-reaching. If birth control were made available at no cost, virtually all women of childbearing age would benefit significantly. Women would be able to more consistently use the birth control method that works best for them, without worrying about cost. That would help reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies and improve the health of women and their children.
Most women spend three decades trying to avoid getting pregnant; it is no surprise that this policy has significant widespread support. A survey by Hart Research Associates found that 71 percent of all voters were in favor of fully covering prescription birth control with no co-pays. The number is even higher among women voters, of whom 81 percent supported this policy.
The support holds strong across political, religious and ethnic groups.
Most important, the survey revealed that fully covering birth control is absolutely necessary. About one-third of American female voters have struggled with the cost of prescription birth control at some point in their lives and, as a result, have used birth control inconsistently. That number rises dramatically among younger women; more than half mentioned a time when they could not afford to use birth control consistently.
This is not surprising, given that out-of-pocket costs can be expensive, especially for many young women and women with low incomes. Insurance co-payments for birth control pills typically range between $15 and $50 per month, and for other methods, such as IUDs, co-pays and other out-of-pocket expenses can reach into the hundreds of dollars. The average American woman will spend approximately five years pregnant, postpartum or trying to have children, but 30 years trying to prevent pregnancy. That can add up to thousands of dollars spent on prescription birth control.
By eliminating this cost barrier and providing prescription birth control with no co-pays or out-of-pocket costs, women will have access to a full range of reliable, safe and effective birth control methods, thereby helping them plan their families and reduce unintended pregnancies.
Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. If we are serious about reducing the high rate of unintended pregnancies, we must get at the root cause and take practical steps to increase access to affordable birth control. The simple fact is that making contraception affordable reduces the number of unintended pregnancies. That's why Planned Parenthood of Northern New England supports fully covering prescription birth control with no co-pays. We know from the 52,000 patients Planned Parenthood sees each year that this change would dramatically improve the lives of women.
(Cheryl Gibson is medical director of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.)
NH Public Affairs Director
January 22, 2011
January 27, 2011