As Zika Numbers Climb, Family Planning Is on Many Women’s Minds

Digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of Zika virus. From the CDC Public Health Image Library
Digitally-colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of Zika virus. From the CDC Public Health Image Library

Summer is here and with it mosquito season. This year concern about Zika virus infection will likely have mosquito repellent flying off the shelves. But as summer rolls on and the tally of infections rises, access to family planning services will become more important than ever for women worried about Zika and pregnancy. There are currently 423 pregnant women in the U.S., D.C., and U.S. territories with lab confirmed Zika virus infection who are being monitored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for complications, with more expected as summer heats up.

A recent survey found that 84% of adults in the United States know that Zika can be passed to the fetus during pregnancy and that for a quarter of those polled, concerns about the virus have caused them to actively avoid unplanned pregnancy or delay trying to get pregnant. These findings highlight the importance of affordable family planning and shine a light on what the virus means for an unplanned pregnancy or for plans to start a family.

We need a strong public health infrastructure that works in every state and territory.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) expanded Medicaid eligibility for individuals, filling historic gaps in coverage for low income adults. However, a 2012 Supreme Court ruling made the expansion optional for states. As of January 2016, only 32 states have adopted Medicaid expansion leaving many Americans in a coverage gap that disproportionately impacts women and people of color. Failure to expand Medicaid, particularly in the South, impedes access to birth control for millions of women. Alarmingly, some states with risk of Zika virus continue to deny this important safety-net coverage.
In addition to Medicaid, Title X funding provides critical reproductive health care to more than five million low-income women and men at over 4,500 community-based clinics across the nation. But as Congress works to negotiate emergency funding for Zika response increased Title X funds have not been part of the equation. For women in Puerto Rico, where there is a high unmet need for family planning services, Title X funding is already a vital resource for women to access affordable and effective birth control. In the context of Zika virus, which is rapidly spreading there, these funds are crucial to ensure Puerto Rican women can plan their pregnancies.

We need to ensure women can access birth control without out-of-pocket costs.
Thanks to the ACA’s birth control benefit, more than 55.6 million women have access to all FDA approved methods of birth control without out-of-pocket costs. When birth control is affordable, women have access to more effective methods and the method that is right for them – always a good thing. This coverage is also important for women who wish to avoid or delay pregnancy because of the risk of Zika virus infection. Through the CoverHer hotline, the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) monitors implementation of the ACA birth control benefit. But, as we reported last year, some health plans continue to charge out-of-pocket for many methods of birth control. For some women, including those whose insurance is through an employer who objects to covering birth control in their insurance plan, getting this coverage is not as seamless as it should be. We also hear from women who need a specific type of pill or IUD but getting coverage through the waiver process has been difficult. Many women who wish to get an IUD or sterilization procedure may also have unexpected costs related to their doctor’s visit.

Access to affordable family planning is always important, but concern about Zika virus and pregnancy highlights just how crucial these services are. Mosquitos don’t care about state lines or health insurance plans – a strong public health system that works for everyone will ensure that women concerned about Zika infection can plan their pregnancies.

If you are charged for your birth control CoverHer might be able to help. To see our online resources and sample appeal letters visit, or contact us at [email protected], or 1-877-745-5487 and we’ll do our best to answer your questions.