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By: Micole Allekotte, FellowPosted on July 21, 2011

The moment women’s health advocates have been working towards for decades has finally arrived; health insurance is going to cover contraception without co-pays!  For the vast majority of Americans this is welcome news.  For women’s health advocates, it is also unsurprising.

Congress intended to require coverage of contraception without cost-sharing.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) if a service is classified as “preventive” that means health insurance companies are required to provide that service without co-pays. Throughout the process of the bill becoming law, legislators made clear that they intended required coverage of preventive services for women to include contraception. Senator Mikulski stated that the Women’s Health Amendment she authored was intended to include family planning in preventive services. During debate several other senators also said that the intent was for contraception to be included among services insurance companies are required to cover without co-pays. Similarly, dozens of House members signed a letter explaining that their intent was that women would receive preventive care, including contraception, at no additional cost.

The last step is for HHS to make IOM’s recommendations binding.
After the ACA became law, it was up to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to define exactly which services should be included as preventive care for women. HHS asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a non-partisan group of scientists who advise the federal government, to recommend which services count as preventive care. Based on extensive evidence showing the health benefits of family planning, the IOM recommended that contraception be included as preventive services required to be covered without a co-pay.

This recommendation fits with long-standing governmental policy. For example, federal law governing HMOs requires them to cover family planning services as a “preventive service.” Medicaid has been covering family planning without co-pays for almost 40 years.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission stated ten years ago that treating “contraception differently from preventive treatments and services for other medical conditions” is “discriminate[ion] on the basis of pregnancy.”

Now is the time to join forces, speak up, and get ready to celebrate a win.
Sadly, when it comes to reproductive health we have gotten so used to losing to anti-sex fringes that even some feminists are skeptical when big wins are imminent.  The vast majority of Americans believe that insurance should cover contraception.  Congress agrees.  The science of improving women’s health strongly supports access to family planning.  Feminists since Griswold have been running a baton race to guarantee women’s access to birth control, and we are about to win.  It would be a mistake to admit defeat just before we cross the finish line.  So Americans who believe in contraceptive coverage, listen up!  Don’t look over your shoulder at the trailing Family Research Council as it passes the baton to the Bishops.  Look forward and get ready to cross the finish line: sign our petition urging Secretary Sebelius to make IOM’s recommendations binding.

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