Women won in Washington this week. The Obama administration's decision to protect the birth control coverage benefit that is part of health care reform will have a real and direct impact on millions of Americans--who will now have insurance that covers birth control without deductibles or co-pays. This will save women who use oral contraceptives about $15 to $50 a month , adding up to hundreds of dollars a year--and even more for those that need access to longer acting methods, like IUDs, which can cost up to $800.
For women in America, this is a watershed moment. The birth control coverage benefit is one of the most important breakthroughs for women's health care in a generation. Birth control will be treated like any other preventive prescription, and it will be more accessible than it's ever been.
This benefit matters to women from all corners of this country and from all walks of life--and when it mattered most, the Obama administration stood strong against efforts to take it away.
The Obama administration reached this decision after hearing from major medical societies, patient advocates, members of Congress, and, most importantly, regular Americans who disagreed with efforts to undermine the birth control benefit. Indeed, a small but vocal group of women's health opponents launched a campaign to pressure the administration to exempt religiously affiliated universities, hospitals, social service agencies, and schools from the birth control benefit. The law already allows religious organizations like churches and church associations to deny birth control coverage for their employees--an exemption Planned Parenthood disagrees with. But that wasn't enough for opponents of contraception.
If they had had their way, nurses, secretaries, teachers, and other workers of all faiths would have been cut off from access to affordable birth control. This, despite the fact that birth control use is nearly universal in the United States, even among Catholics. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 99 percent of all sexually experienced women and 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women will have used birth control at some point in their lives.
But women and families weren't about to stand by. They knew what Planned Parenthood knew: women should have access to birth control without co-pays or deductibles, regardless of where they work. That's why the birth control benefit is one of the most popular provisions in health care reform. And it's why we heard from more than 100,000 women and men across the country, letting us know why birth control matters to them and why it's so important that this benefit be protected.
The Obama administration's decision to protect the birth control benefit is the right decision for women and families, and it's good health policy. Doctors and public health experts agree that increased access to birth control prevents unintended pregnancies and improves health outcomes for women and their families, as women whose pregnancies are unintended are less likely to get prenatal care and are at greater risk for conditions such as premature and low birth weight babies. In addition, birth control can protect women against debilitating symptoms of endometriosis and can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer.
No employer should dictate whether their workers have access to affordable birth control, especially since it's basic health care. And especially when it would deny those workers a benefit other Americans have access to under health care reform. Fortunately for Americans, the Obama administration rejected this effort today. We applaud the administration's decision. And millions of women across America do, too.