Most Women Don’t Know About Obamacare’s Birth Control Coverage

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Obamacare’s birth control benefit — the provision of the health reform law that allows women to access a range of preventative health services at no extra charge — has been in effect for over a year. But most U.S. women still aren’t aware of this aspect of Obamacare, according to researchers who have been tracking public perception about the law’s new contraceptive coverage.

Phoenix Marketing International conducted three separate surveys on this topic over the past year, and every time, the company found that fewer than half of women between the ages of 18 and 45 knew about Obamacare’s birth control coverage. The first two surveys found that about 45 percent of women knew that the full cost of FDA-approved contraception should be covered by insurance companies. That number ticked up very slightly in the third survey, to 48 percent — but that still means that half of the women in the country may not realize that the birth control method of their choice is more affordable now.

On the one-year anniversary of Obamacare’s birth control provision, the Health and Human Services Department estimated that about 27 million women are now eligible for no-cost contraception. But if Phoenix’s research is any indication, many of them may not yet be taking advantage of that.

And even among the women who do know that the new birth control provision exists, Phoenix’s latest survey reveals that there’s still some confusion about how it works in practice. Just 40 percent of women realize that brand-name oral contraceptives, in addition to their generic counterparts, are completely covered. And less than a quarter are aware that they can get a non-hormonal IUDs without being charged a co-pay — an important aspect of the health reform law, since co-pays for IUDs used to be hundreds of dollars.

Kristen McNeill, a researcher for Phoenix Marketing International, told CNBC that the education gap may reflect the fact that a lot of people still remain confused about Obamacare in general. But she also thinks that pharmaceutical companies bear some responsibility in this area. McNeill pointed out that Big Pharma hasn’t done big advertising pushes to highlight the birth control provision. “Why aren’t the pharma companies taking advantage of this opportunity that’s being handed to them?” McNeill asked.

Although some participants in Phoenix’s surveys did say they heard about their new contraceptive coverage options from their doctor, not every medical professional is doing a good job at explaining the new benefits under the health reform law, either. More broadly, not every general practitioner is talking about contraception with their female patients at all. One recent study found that the vast majority of women don’t have all the facts about their different birth control options, yet don’t receive counseling on the subject from their health care professional.

Reproductive health advocates have been attempting to do their part to get out the word about how Obamacare impacts women. Planned Parenthood recently ran a campaign collecting stories from Americans who have already benefited from the contraception provision. And earlier this month, sexual health organizations held the first annual “Thanks, Birth Control” Day to spur more conversations about how women are using modern contraception in their own lives.