The #WestCoastBestCoast: Reproductive Health Care Coverage, Paid Family Leave, and Other Recent Victories in the Northwest
Everyone who knows me has heard me bragging about my hometown in the Pacific Northwest. The usual response: “But isn’t the rain awful there?” To all you sun-loving doubters out there, here is my response for you – who cares about rain when I have comprehensive insurance coverage, paid family leave, fair scheduling, and increased access to birth control? Northwestern laws are giving me the support I need to decide if, when, and how to have children and the stable, predictable work schedule I need to accommodate my caregiving responsibilities and promote my economic security.
Here are 4 reasons I am humble bragging about my Northwest roots this summer:
- With the threat of Affordable Care Act (ACA) repeal at the federal level, Oregon passed a groundbreaking law to ensure that basic health services, including abortion, will be covered by insurance plans in the state. Health care can be costly without insurance coverage, forcing many individuals, especially women, to forgo needed care. This new Oregon law, called the Reproductive Health Equity Act, requires insurers in the state to cover abortion at no cost to the patient. Additionally, all plans must provide coverage for preventative reproductive health services, such as birth control, and screening for reproductive cancers and STIs—this will help eliminate the financial burden for the 18,600 Oregon women who are forced to pay out-of-pocket costs for preventative health services, including contraceptives. The law will also expand postpartum care to about 48,000 Oregonians who have coverage for labor and delivery that drops immediately after birth. Finally, the law will remove the requirement that only “women” can get coverage for reproductive health services—these gender-specific administrative categories prevent transgender and gender-nonconforming patients from accessing lifesaving cancer screening and other necessary health services. Overall, this law will expand healthcare to all Oregonians regardless of income, type of insurance, citizenship status, or gender identity and expression.
- Last week, Washington passed a generous paid family and medical leave law, becoming the fifth state in the U.S. to do so. Now, nearly all workers in Washington have access to 12 weeks of paid time off for a new birth, to care for a newly-adopted child or foster child, to care for a sick family member, or to care for one’s own serious health condition. The total combined amount of annual paid leave that workers can take is 16 weeks, with an additional 2 weeks for complications related to pregnancy. The program also guarantees that workers who earn less receive a higher percentage of their income, helping employees actually be able to afford to take the time off without struggling to make ends meet. As Legal Voice’s Janet Chung stated at the bill signing, “People get sick. Babies are born or adopted. Life happens, and our workplace policies need to catch up…Care by loved ones shouldn’t be a scare commodity.”
- Oregon just became the first state in the nation to pass comprehensive fair scheduling legislation and with bipartisan support. The bill requires retail, food service, and hospitality businesses to give workers two weeks’ advance notice of work schedules and additional pay for shift changes. It also gives workers a right to a minimum of 10 hours of rest between daily shifts and a right to give input into their work schedule without fear of retaliation. Oregon’s fair scheduling act will provide stability and predictability for working people and their families, allowing them to meet their family responsibilities, stay in jobs, and advance their education and careers. It is also a victory for reproductive justice: women, especially women of color, are disproportionately affected by unpredictable work schedules because they not only hold the majority of low-wage jobs, but also shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities. Unfair scheduling practices can make it impossible for workers to schedule appointments, forcing them to forgo needed care, which can have long-term consequences. A woman who is unable to get the birth control she needs, for example, is at greater risk of having an unintended pregnancy.
- Both Washington and Oregon passed bills that require insurance companies to cover 12 months of birth control at one time—meaning patients will only have to pick up their birth control once a year. This is a substantial step toward reducing barriers to birth control and decreasing unintended pregnancies: a woman who receives a one-year supply of birth control has a 30% lower chance of an unplanned pregnancy compared with a woman who receives only 30 or 90 days. Patients will no longer have to take time off from work or school each month or pay high transportation costs to get the birth control they need, which is especially important for patients in rural areas, those who have difficulty accessing a pharmacy, and those with inflexible work schedules. Moreover, the Oregon law allows pharmacists to dispense birth control pills without requiring a woman to get a prescription beforehand. By removing these barriers to birth control access, these laws support not only the reproductive health and decision-making of women, but also their long-term economic security.
The policies enacted in these states work together to ensure individuals have the supports they need to make the decision about whether and when to start a family that is best for them, and protect individuals from difficult scheduling practices in order to give families a fair shot at achieving economic security. So the next time you hear someone ask about the weather in the Northwest, I will just be over here singing in the rain for reproductive justice and economic security!