When it comes to expanding access to reproductive health, wins don’t come easy. But when Congress finalizes this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) next month, it has the opportunity to improve access to birth control, counseling, and education in several key ways:
- Ensure that non-active duty servicemembers and military dependents have no co-pay coverage of birth control;
- Improve family planning education for all servicemembers; and,
- Ensure access to emergency contraception for survivors of sexual assault who seek treatment at a military treatment facility.
Everyone deserves coverage of birth control, but some servicemembers and their families still don’t have it. Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit does not reach TRICARE – the insurance plan for those in the military and their families. That means folks who rely on the military for health insurance (other than Active Duty servicemembers) do not have no-copay birth control. This is affecting real people – my coworkers and I have spoken to people in this position countless times over the years on our CoverHer hotline. We have talked with people who are trying to figure out why they still have to pay out-of-pocket for birth control when so many other people do not. But Congress can bring TRICARE’s coverage in line with other employer-based insurance plans, including for other federal employees, who all have no-cost coverage of birth control.
Furthermore, while some branches of the military have taken steps in offering family education programs for its servicemembers, it must do more to ensure that all of its servicemembers receive comprehensive family planning education. A provision of the NDAA would require the Department of Defense to develop a uniform standard curriculum to incorporate family planning education programs across the Services.
Department of Defense regulations already recognize the importance of providing information about and access to emergency contraception to sexual assault survivors. But Congress can now codify those regulations and ensure that those who are sexually assaulted and present at a military treatment facility are given the critical and time-sensitive medical counseling and care that they may need.
Women play a critical role in the military and have for decades. They currently make up more than 17% of all active duty and reserve members of the Armed Forces, and half of all beneficiaries on TRICARE. And the vast majority (95%) of all women serving are of reproductive age, yet some report insufficient access to contraceptive services. We need to make sure our federal programs support women, including by improving their access to birth control information and services. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it also is supported by voters. Nearly all voters (96%) support women having access to birth control, and 90% say access to birth control is an important part of women’s ability to control their bodies, lives, and futures.
Congress should finalize the NDAA with these common-sense solutions to improve access to birth control and family planning education for those who serve our country.