Millions Of Women Don’t Have To Pay A Dollar When They Pick Up Their Birth Control

CREDIT: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File

Under the health care reform law’s contraceptive provision, an increasing number of privately insured women aren’t being charged a co-pay for the birth control service of their choice, according to a new study from the Guttmacher Institute. Researchers say their data reflects the fact that Obamacare is effectively expanding access to affordable contraception.

Guttmacher researchers have been tracking the impact of Obamacare’s expanded birth control coverage for the past two years. Their new results are based on responses from nearly 2,000 women between the ages of 18 and 39 who participated at each interval of the longitudinal study. They found a substantial increase in the proportion of women benefiting from no-cost contraception between the fall of 2012, right before the health law began taking effect, and the spring of 2014.

For instance, the number of women who don’t have to pay an additional co-pay for the pill has risen from 15 percent to 67 percent — an increase of nearly 450 percent:

birth control co pay

CREDIT: Guttmacher Institute

Similar increases were evident for women choosing other contraceptive options, like the shot and the ring. The final number of IUD users is based on combined data for spring 2013, fall 2013, and spring 2014 because only a small number of the women surveyed use that method.

“That these benefits continue to accrue so quickly is remarkable, and shows that the contraceptive coverage guarantee is meeting a real demand,” Adam Sonfield, a senior public policy associate at Guttmacher and the lead author of the new study, said in a statement. “Its impact will only continue to grow as its protections are phased in.”

As more insurance plans lose their “grandfathered” status and adopt Obamacare’s new coverage requirements, even more women will become eligible for no-cost birth control.

However, there’s a chance that some people may not be able to access these benefits depending on where they work. Religious employers continue to push back against this particular provision — and, thanks to the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, some for-profit companies are now allowed to drop coverage for the birth control methods they object to. That’s opened the door for more lawsuits against Obamacare, and it’s unclear how they will end up impacting women’s access to coverage.

This has created an environment in which some women remain confused about whether their insurance plans should be offering them birth control without a co-pay. Several advocates have stepped up to help. Planned Parenthood set up a hotline that allows people to seek assistance if they’re confused about how the Hobby Lobby decision affects them. The National Women’s Law Center offers step-by-step instructions for women to ask their insurance providers whether their plan includes this Obamacare benefit. And more recently, after an apparent computer glitch started triggering pharmacies to incorrectly charge women co-pays for their birth control, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) sent a letter to CVS demanding a fix so that women don’t end up getting stuck with a bill they shouldn’t be paying.

While conservative opponents to the law often claim that Obamacare gives women “free birth control,” that’s not entirely accurate. The women benefiting from this provision are accessing birth control through their employer-sponsored health insurance plans, which is a benefit directly tied to their job. Women do pay for the benefits included in those policies, both by working for their employer and by paying a monthly premium. Meanwhile, the low-income women who don’t have jobs that include insurance benefits are still struggling to get the contraception they need.