Big news for birth control access. (Photo: Getty Images)
On Tuesday afternoon, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), announced the introduction of the Affordability IS Access Act, a bill that would build on the contraception coverage required in the Affordable Care Act by allowing FDA-approved birth control pills to be made available over the counter.
“Anyone will tell you that when something is too expensive, it doesn’t matter how easy it is to get,” said Senator Murray during a press call on which she announced the bill this afternoon. “It might as well be on the moon because affordability and access go hand in hand — you can’t have one without the other. That’s why Democrats fought to ensure that contraception would be covered with no co-pay under the Affordable Care Act. We felt that women shouldn’t have to pay out of their own pockets for a critical part of their health care, just because their insurance didn’t cover it. And now, millions of women across the country are saving on preventive care, including contraception, because it must be covered. The bill I’m introducing today…builds on this progress….so that women can have safe, convenient, over-the-counter access without being forced to pay extra on top of their insurance.”
A study published this March in the journal Contraception found that making birth control available other the counter, but — as currently dictated by the Affordable Care Act — still covered by insurance with no co-pay, could decrease the rate of unintended pregnancy among low-income women by as much as 25 percent.
Furthermore, researchers found that 20 to 36 percent of women would begin using birth control pills if they were available over-the-counter.
A 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute found that unintended pregnancy costs U.S. taxpayers $11 billion annually — costs that could mainly be eliminated through low- or no-cost over-the-counter birth control. American women and their families saved $483 million on their birth control prescriptions during the first year that birth control was covered with no co-pay by the Affordable Care Act (known colloquially as Obamacare) and more than 55 million American women currently qualify for birth control free of charge as a result of their health insurance coverage.
“It’s a perfect opportunity to have this call because this week of course we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the landmark Griswold decision when the US Supreme Court legalized birth control for married couples,” Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, told reporters. “Fast forward 50 years later, today, virtually all sexually active women use birth control at some point in their lives. The idea that pregnancy alone would limit women’s opportunities is unthinkable…Simply put: When we expand access to birth control, we expand women’s economic opportunity. What’s important…is that access to birth control doesn’t mean much unless it’s affordable access.”
Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) has introduced a bill in the Senate that would allow women to purchase birth control over the counter, too — but his bill would force women to pay a co-pay on their birth control, thus negating the part of the Affordable Care Act that made contraception an essential health benefit for women, available free of charge by all insurance plans save for those provided by religious employers that have sought exemptions. As Senator Murray made clear, this would result in women essentially having to pay twice for their birth control — as part of the built-in costs of their plan and then again through their co-pays.
“Now — unfortunately some of my Republican colleagues are taking a different approach,” said Murray on Wednesday. “They’ve said they support over the counter birth control pills — but they are also dead-set on taking away women’s access to contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. If they had it their way, women might be able to get birth control pulls over the counter, but it wouldn’t be fully covered. That could mean paying as much as $600 every year for birth control, which could put this essential health benefit out of reach for millions of women. This Republican approach of access without affordability is like offering somebody a single shoe. You really need the pair!”
Making birth control affordable and accessible is an issue garnering bi-partisan support among the American public.
A report published earlier this year by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that two-thirds of young Republicans say that “every adult woman should have access to affordable, effective birth control because it gives people a chance to build families on their own terms.”
Sixty-five percent of young Republicans who use birth control support the requirement that insurance companies cover contraception without additional out-of-pocket costs for consumers.