Protect free access to birth control
In the weeks and months after Donald Trump’s election as president last November, women rushed to Planned Parenthood clinics to request intrauterine devices. The demand for IUDs, as the long-acting and cost-saving birth control method is known, increased 900 percent, according to the organization. Many women were afraid they might lose their access to health care after Trump’s Inauguration Day.
There was good reason for panic. Republican leaders in Congress don’t seem keen on giving up their attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, which expanded free access to birth control to millions of women by making it an essential health insurance benefit. More to the point, the Trump administration has drafted a rule that would significantly dial back the contraception coverage mandate in the law by allowing employers and insurers to claim an exemption based on moral or religious objections. The draft was leaked in late May, but the regulation could be finalized and enacted at any moment.
That’s why states have been quick to fight back, putting laws on the books to protect and even expand access to contraception. Massachusetts must do the same.
A hearing for a bill that would do just that was held at the State House on Tuesday. The room was packed with reproductive-health supporters and advocates, including representatives of insurance companies, who would typically oppose any mandated no-copay coverage. The Massachusetts Association of Health Plans, a group that represents 17 insurance providers, changed its stance after some changes to the measure. The amended ACCESS bill, which goes further than the federal mandate, would require insurers to cover emergency contraception — the so-called morning-after pill — at pharmacies without a copay or a new prescription, making it as accessible as a flu shot. It would also allow women to obtain a 12-month supply of birth control pills at one time after completing an initial three-month prescription.
The proposal would cover only traditional employer-sponsored health plans, which represent about 40 percent of the state’s insurance market, and not the self-insured plans, or instances where companies structure their own coverage and health benefits. Still, it is an important compromise. Already seven other states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation mandating free coverage of contraception, and other states are considering doing so.
Thanks to Obamacare’s contraceptive benefit, more than 55 million women — including 1.4 million in the Bay State — now have access to free birth control. “Between 2011 and 2014, out-of-pocket spending for IUDs fell 81 percent, likely contributing to a 34 percent increase in the number of Massachusetts women using them,” said Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president of Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, citing a report from the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission.
Republicans on the national level will continue their egregious attack on women’s health, making the political resistance by states more important than ever. Barriers to birth control disproportionately hurt the poor, and it’s up to Massachusetts lawmakers to pass legislation like the ACCESS bill to protect them.