Should Viagra and Birth Control Be Regulated in the Same Way?

·Contributing Writer
Under the proposed Republican health care bill, contraception may no longer be covered, but it looks as if Viagra still will. (Photo: Getty Images)
Under the proposed Republican health care bill, contraception may no longer be covered, but it looks as if Viagra still will. (Photo: Getty Images)

If you haven’t yet seen this epic sign from an International Women’s Day rally in Los Angeles, prepare to have your mind blown by the flawless logic of it all:

As this young woman, whose message has since gone viral, points out: Shouldn’t the government either fund reproductive healthcare — such as Viagra and birth control — for everyone or no one, regardless of sex or gender identity?

After all, on Tuesday, Republicans in Congress revealed their proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), known colloquially as Obamacare. The new healthcare bill would do away with the contraceptive mandate that requires all insurance plans, including Medicaid (the insurance program for low-income Americans jointly funded by the states and the federal government), to cover all FDA-approved forms of contraception prescribed by a doctor with a $0 co-pay.

The replacement plan would also bar all federal funding to Planned Parenthood for one year. The federal government does not technically “fund” Planned Parenthood but rather reimburses for services rendered by Planned Parenthood health centers for Medicaid and Title X patients. (Title X is the federal family-planning grant program that works to provide reduced- and no-fee family planning services, including contraception counseling and prescriptions, to low-income Americans.)

In other words, the new Republican healthcare plan will force women to pay for contraception out of pocket and prevent women from accessing this contraception from Planned Parenthood as a Medicaid or Title X provider. Sixty percent of Planned Parenthood’s 2.5 million patients served annually access the reproductive and sexual healthcare provider through publicly funded programs (Medicaid and Title X) — meaning that all of these people will now be forced to not only find a way to cover the costs for their contraception but to do so without access to the provider they have come to trust and rely on for their reproductive health.

And yet, treatment for erectile dysfunction, including the medication Viagra, is covered by Medicaid — just as the viral protest sign points out — and there doesn’t seem to be any challenge to this coverage in the new Republican health plan. Many states cover Viagra with no co-pay for patients for a set number of pills per month.

Which is why many women can’t help but think that this is, well, a little unfair.

In 2016, state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian of Kentucky decided to underscore the hypocritical contrast between men’s and women’s access to treatment for their reproductive and sexual health. Marzian introduced a bill that would require men to seek their wives’ permission before obtaining a prescription for Viagra or other treatments for erectile dysfunction. The bill was introduced shortly after Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin signed into law a bill that would require women to meet with a physician 24 hours before having an abortion to insure “informed consent” of the procedure. So Marzian thought it was only reasonable that men should need to get similar consent about their own sexual and reproductive health when it comes to accessing Viagra.

It’s important to note, however, that abortion care itself is explicitly banned from Medicaid coverage through the Hyde amendment. And thus, Planned Parenthood receives zero taxpayer dollars for abortion care, and Medicaid patients pay fully out of pocket for those services if they need them.

So should it really matter what your gender is when it comes to what kind of publicly funded sexual and reproductive health care services you are able to receive?

As Raegan McDonald-Mosley, MD, chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, tells Yahoo Beauty: “At Planned Parenthood, we believe all people deserve high-quality, affordable health care and accurate, nonjudgmental sexual health education and information. Everyone should have access to the care and medication they need to be safe and healthy — in and out of the bedroom.”

She continues: “Each person’s needs are unique to them, so decisions about medication, whether Viagra, birth control, or anything else, should be between the patient and their health care provider. Moreover, health care decisions should be based on the most recent medical standards and research, without involving moral judgments from anyone else. Politicians should not be involved in people’s personal medical decisions. Planned Parenthood is proud to be a source of sexual and reproductive health care, education, and advocacy for women and men in the U.S. Our goal is to provide health care that is inclusive and respectful of all genders.”

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