Friday, July 16, 2010

Why We Need Better Coverage for Birth Control

The recently released list of preventative services that insurers will be required to cover at no cost to patients includes many victories for women.  However, there was one glaring exception: birth control.   As Laura Hessburg, a senior health policy adviser at the National Partnership for Women and Families, said “contraception should be regarded as basic preventive health care.” The Department of Health and Human Services is still reviewing possible additions to the list of preventative care services that will be offered to women.  Hopefully, the facts and the majority of Americans will be heard and women will be provided with birth control as an essential part of preventative care.  
The benefits of including birth control in this policy are clear. Allowing women to plan their pregnancies lessens the health risks for both woman and child.  Women who become unintentionally pregnant are less likely to get vitally important pre-natal care. This can potentially cause health risks for the child, including premature birth and lower birth weight.  They are also unlikely to have been screened for conditions that could lead to their health being threatened by pregnancy.  An additional benefit to increasing the availability of birth control is the fact that as the rate of unintended pregnancies decreased, the number of abortions would also decrease.

Covering birth control also leads to lower financial costs for women.  Women who have insurance face payments between $160 and $600 per year for birth control, a significant financial burden for any woman, but especially for low-income women.  It should also be noted that while both men and women benefit from birth control, women often disproportionately shoulder the financial responsibility.  Including birth control in preventative care coverage would help create a more equal playing field.  In addition, the cost of contraception is much less than the cost of pre-natal and maternal health care. Of course women who choose to continue their pregnancies should receive high quality care. But the amount of money that can be saved by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies is astronomical.   In 2002, unintentional pregnancies cost the health-care system $5 billion and women anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000 per delivery. Whereas, in 2002 using contraceptives saved the health-care system 19 Billion.  As Health-care costs have risen since 2002 these figures are have probably stayed true or increased.  While there is an upfront cost in expanding coverage, the long term savings far exceed the initial investment.  

Requiring insurance companies to fully over birth control not only makes medical and financial sense, it enjoys an immense amount of public support as well.  81% of Americans support the availability of birth control.  Even among socially conservative groups, such as Evangelical Christians, there is widespread support for birth control. 

Access to birth control is imperative to women’s health and well being. As the health-care system is reformed, women’s basic needs should not be comprised or politicized (more than they already have been).  It’s simple: providing full coverage for birth control helps to improve the financial health of both women and the health-care system.  Even more importantly, it helps keep women and children healthy while ensuring that women have control over their bodies.

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