The first day of August is the traditional start of month of a slower pace at work, a week at the beach or permission to indulge in a little all-around laziness.
For millions of American women, this August 1st will bring something else: The day when the barriers to contraception tumbled across the nation.
The provisions of the Affordable Care Act that require most health care insurance plans to provide basic "well-women" services to their female enrollees for no additional charge will take effect. These preventive services include screenings for cervical cancer and domestic violence, lactation and Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) counseling and contraception services.
"Well women" services are not only crucial for women's health but, because they prevent more serious illnesses, the Institute of Medicine recommended that women's health insurance covers these services without an additional deductible or co-pay because, simply put, they pay for themselves.
Americans might be surprised to learn the financial cost of contraception for women. A 2010 survey found that 29% of an insured woman's total out-of-pocket expenses for health care went to contraception.
More than a quarter of all women, many of whom are struggling financially, recently reported that they have tried to economize by using birth control inconsistently -- skipping days on the pill, putting off visits to the doctor to get their prescriptions refilled, taking a month "off."
These women have been forced to play Russian roulette -- and not just with the risk of an unwanted pregnancy. Numerous studies show that contraception is integral to the overall health of both women and their children. As I outlined a few months ago, being able to time one's pregnancies results in healthier moms, healthier babies and healthier relationships.
So we should all celebrate August 1 as a step forward for women and for families.
It is not, however, a complete victory. The reproductive health of some women has been -- surprise, surprise -- subject to politics. We must be mindful of what the Obama Administration's one-year extension for non-profit religious institutions like hospitals and universities to comply with the law means for women.
The consequences are huge: Catholic hospitals employ nearly 14% of all hospital employees in the country, and more than 200 Catholic schools of higher education exist, enrolling nearly 900,000 students -- and employing faculty and staff who may or may not be Catholic themselves.
Many of these institutions are suing the government because they don't want the mandate to apply to them; at least one for-profit manufacturer wants an exemption, too, and has made a last-minute hail-Mary to keep the regulations from taking effect at all.
Decisions about contraception, like any medical decision, must be made by women themselves. We must not allow employers to inject themselves into that process. We would not allow employers to withhold antidepressants because they did not believe in psychiatry, or refuse to cover surgery because they believe the human body should not be "violated." Contraception is no different.
So, while August 1st is a day for great celebration, it is also a day to contemplate the work that still remains. Let's really make sure women get the health care they deserve.
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