Raising kids is expensive – at least, that’s what my parents tell me, and my husband’s parents, and my friends who have kids. I do want children of my own someday, but first I want to make sure my husband and I are financially stable and as prepared as we can be for a slew of new expenses (not to mention new stresses!). In the meantime, I’m relying on prescription birth control, which is no small expense itself – but I’m lucky to have a good job with health insurance coverage that picks up most of the cost. And when the time comes, I know I’ll have access to quality care to make sure I’m healthy before, during, and after a baby.

For many low-income women, however, these choices are much harder. Even women who have health insurance may face high deductibles and co-payments for doctor’s visits and prescriptions. Co-payments for contraception typically cost $15 to $50 a month, and alternatives to the pill, such as the IUD, can cost hundreds of dollars and often aren’t covered by insurance at all. For a young woman trying to cover groceries and rent on the $1,200 or so she earns each month from her minimum wage job, paying for birth control may seem impossible. A study commissioned by Planned Parenthood last year found that 34 percent of women voters have struggled with the cost of prescription birth control at some point in their lives – and among young adult women, who are most at risk for unplanned pregnancy, more than half (55 percent) have experienced a time when they could not afford to use birth control consistently.

Of course, skipping birth control can backfire, resulting in an unplanned pregnancy and the expenses and tough decisions that come with it. More than half of all pregnancies to women with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line are unintended, and an unintended pregnancy can seriously undermine a young woman’s efforts to improve her prospects for the future: less than half of all teenage mothers finish high school – and only 2 percent finish college – by age 30, while 61 percent of students who have a child after enrolling in community college do not finish their education. 

Fortunately, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) panel report released on Tuesday could make it much easier for low-income women to protect their health and plan their futures. The IOM panel of independent medical and scientific experts was charged with developing recommendations for women’s preventive health services that health insurance plans should be required to cover with no cost-sharing under the Affordable Care Act. Wisely, the IOM panel recognized that contraception is essential preventive health care for women and included it on the list of items that should be covered by insurance with no out-of-pocket costs – along with annual well-woman visits, support for breastfeeding, counseling for sexually transmitted infections, and screening and counseling for domestic violence.

These services will make it easier for all women, and especially women who struggle with health care costs, to lead healthy lives. But before the IOM’s recommendations can take effect, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) must decide to endorse them. If you agree that every woman – regardless of her financial circumstances – should able to take control of her health and choose when (or if) to start a family, show your support and sign our petition today!

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