Free birth control could soon be a reality. A medical advisory panel from the Institute of Medicine--a non-partisan group--recommended to the Health and Human Services Department eight services for women it believes should qualify as preventive care, including contraception, reports The New York Times.
Under health care reform, insurers must fully cover the cost of preventive care. That means if these guidelines the group has just outlined are adopted, birth control would be preventative care, resulting in free birth control for all. As of now, most insurance companies have some contraceptive coverage with copays, explains The New York Times.
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Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, is taking recommendations from medical panels into account as she decides on a minimum package of essential health benefits to take effect in 2013, which Congress won't need to approve.
But those looking to save on prescriptions should hold off on rejoicing--these are just recommendations. The Obama administration has yet to adopt any new measures and Sebelius didn't give any indication of her position in her murky statement.
"Before today, guidelines regarding women's health and preventive care did not exist," she said. "These recommendations are based on science and existing literature and I appreciate the hard work and thoughtful analysis that went into this report."
The panel justified its ruling on contraceptive coverage citing the stats: Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and about 40 percent of unwanted pregnancies end in abortion. Increasing the availability of birth control would then equal fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions, explains the New York Times.
Even though Sebelius has yet to show her support or disapproval of any of the panel's suggestions, which also include HIV screening and support for breast-feeding mothers, murmurs of the possibility of government subsidized birth control have political observers on both sides fired up. The arguments thus far are as follows:
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Without the subsidy, birth control costs too much
More people would take precautions, if they could afford to do so. Birth control isn't cheap, as The Nation's Sharon Lerner explains. "Financially, women will be spared a huge burden. Birth control pills can cost more than $60 per month. Now, even most women whose plans 'cover' birth control do so only partially, leaving them with an average cost of $14 per pack. Getting an IUD inserted can cost hundreds." Planned Parenthood seconds this sentiment, framing the recommendation as promoting economic equality:
"Millions of women, especially young women, struggle every day to afford prescription birth control," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Today's recommendation brings us a step closer to ensuring that all newly insured women under the health care reform law will have access to prescription birth control without out-of-pocket expenses."
Not only will this save individual pill takers some dough, but the initiative could even cut costs for the government. "Publicly supported family planning clinics save taxpayers $3.74 for every $1 that is spent providing contraceptive care, according to the Guttmacher Institute," explains Lerner.
Subsidized birth control is a win for women's rights
Greater access to birth control gives women more control over their sexuality, and these new recommendations are a step forward for women's rights, argues Democratic Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, quoted in The New York Times. "We are one step closer to saying goodbye to an era when simply being a woman is treated as a pre-existing condition ... We are saying hello to an era where decisions about preventive care and screenings are made by a woman and her doctor, not by an insurance company."
But pregnancy is not a "condition"
Religious groups such as The Family Research Council and The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and have expressed their disapproval of government funded birth control, according to CBS. "Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed," Deirdre A. McQuade, a spokeswoman for the bishops' Pro-Life Secretariat told The New York Times. Calling birth control "preventative care" would suggest there is some illness to be prevented, these groups argue.
Tax-payer money shouldn't fund contraception
If people morally oppose birth control, they shouldn't have to pay for it, right? That's how The Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council feels. "They should not be forced to violate their conscience by paying premiums to health plans that cover these items and services," they told The New York Times.
Jeannie Monahan of the Family Research Council seconds that sentiment in an interview with NPR, "Say, for example, that I had a problem with it. I would be paying into a plan that would be covering them. So, it would be objectionable because I would be paying into that plan. In a way, I would be forced to pay for it myself." The guidelines would also cover Plan B, which pro-life groups liken to abortion, "Those seven to 10 days before a baby can implant, Plan B can prevent that implantation, and thereby, cause the demise of that baby. So, we'd be opposed to those drugs being included because they act as abortifacients."
Forget God, this is about science
"I am morally opposed to both the war in Afghanistan and paying for Dick Cheney's steampunk heart, but I'm not within my rights to refuse to pay taxes," points out Jezebel's Erin Glorai Ryan. This is government legislation, and personal feelings like this are irrelevant, she argues:
People who become pharmacists but refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control or the morning after pill (or anything else related to wanton women's harlotry) because God sez they shouldn't have to are like pilots who refuse to fly over bodies of water because they're pretty sure Poseidon is mad at them.
Given the strong backlash from the religious and pro-life community, Ryan isn't betting the recommendations will pass. Furthermore, "I'm assuming that if the Obama administration puts its stamp of approval on these recommendations, thus mandating that taxpayers foot the bill for The Pill, it will unleash a wave of crazy screeching Bachmannalia and the streets will run red, white, and blue, with the blood of misspelled protest signs."