In the spring of 2009, I registered for a health politics and policy class on a whim. Going in, I didn’t understand the difference between Medicare and Medicaid let alone the nuances elected officials seemed to be talking about all the time. Little did I know that spring was the perfect time to take that class. Halfway through the semester, we stopped following our syllabus and started following the news, setting up CSPAN on the projector in the classroom so we could watch the health care summit.
The health care law passed over my spring break. Back at school in Massachusetts (where, coincidentally, all residents are required to have health insurance), all anyone could talk about was staying on their parents’ insurance after graduation. But my parents and I have separate insurance plans: I get insurance through a group of Massachusetts colleges that joined together to provide less expensive student plans. I admit I was frustrated I couldn’t take advantage of the ACA’s young adult coverage provision. Even though I understood the benefits the health care law would have for hundreds of thousands of Americans, I still felt like I was missing out on the essential component of my generation’s celebration of the passage of the bill.
But now, almost a year and a half later, I’m excited. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) has released its recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services. These recommendations include a lot of important preventive care services, including well-woman visits and screening for domestic violence. But I’m excited because contraception was also deemed preventive health care. Now young people – young women especially – have even more to be grateful for in the health care law.
I’m excited that my friends with ovarian cysts who are on the Pill for medical reasons can qualify for no-cost birth control. I’m excited that students with plans separate from their parents’ can get the contraceptive protection they need in confidence. I’m excited that women who fear contraceptive coercion will be able to get no-cost IUDs. Mostly, though, I’m excited that the United States is finally acknowledging how important contraception is for women of all ages.
As exciting as this news is, it is important to remember that the Department of Health and Human Services still needs to accept the IOM’s recommendations. But the road to reproductive justice, paved by women like Margaret Sanger and Sarah Weddington, has always been long. Together we can follow in their footsteps by telling Secretary Sebelius to accept the recommendations in full. The IOM’s report is a crucial stop on the journey of reproductive rights.