After receiving the bill for my IUD, I was ecstatic to reap the benefits of the Affordable Care Act – specifically the benefit that affords all insured individuals access to at least one no-cost option of each FDA-approved form of contraception. This measure removes a significant financial burden for me and all contraception-using adults. Consequently, it also supports lowering the public costs for unintended pregnancies. In 2011, before the Affordable Care Act was enacted, the Guttmacher Institute found that taxpayers covered $11 billion annually in pregnancy care and birth costs for unintended pregnancies. Supporting legislation that emphasizes birth control access also contributes to lowering the public cost of unintended pregnancies.
In what appears to be an effort to make one of the widest-used forms of birth control – oral contraception – even more accessible, Republican Cory Gardner introduced the Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act bill to make oral contraception available over the counter, without a prescription. On a global level, this is not a new initiative; oral contraception is distributed without a prescription in 70% of the world. Nationally, the provision of oral contraception without a prescription was officially endorsed by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in 2012.
Allowing women to take oral contraception without a prescription – much less a doctor’s visit – seems like a step in the right direction, correct?
Not unless that accessibility is met with affordability. Gardner’s bill does not require insurance companies to cover the costs of over-the-counter oral contraception. This puts the fees – those covered under the ACA as a prescribed medication – back on the consumers seeking over the counter birth control. In response, the Democratic Senator Patty Murray has issued a to-the-point bill titled Affordability IS Accessibility to address this very issue. In the bill, cosponsored by Minnesota’s own Amy Klobacher and Al Franken, oral contraception would be available over the counter without a prescription and, most importantly, without a co-pay.
Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s CEO Cecile Richards put it best in describing the significance of this detail:
As a result of birth control, women’s lives have changed dramatically in the U.S. Being able to access birth control and plan our families is a critical factor, and the fact that women are now a majority of college graduates in this country and we have made significant gains in the wage gap, way to go. In any given year, we are half the work force.
Simply put: When we expand access to birth control, we expand women’s economic opportunity.
What’s important, and why we are having this call today, is that access to birth control doesn’t mean much unless it’s affordable access. You can make birth control available over the counter in every pharmacy in America, but if it still costs $600 a year, it will be out of reach for many women.
Both Gardner’s and Murray’s bills are under review. You can support the work of pro-women senators who understand and fight for legislation that makes family planning options both accessible AND affordable by encouraging your representatives to support Senator Murray’s bill.