5 Reasons Why The Contraceptive Coverage Guarantee Is So Important

Our guest blogger is Lindsay Rosenthal, the Special Assistant for Domestic Policy at the Center for American Progress.

During an interview on MSNBC Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said she was “dumbfounded” that in 2012 Democrats are still having to battle with conservative lawmakers over basic women’s health care like access to contraception. “If my Republican colleagues want to continue to take this issue head on,” she said, “we stand ready to oppose any attacks launched against women’s rights and women’s health.”

Indeed, when you look at the overwhelming evidence of the benefits to women and society that will result from providing no-cost contraceptive coverage, it’s hard not to be baffled by the opposition to what is clearly a vital component of women’s healthcare. Here are the top 5 reasons why the Obama Administration’s regulation requiring insurers and employers to provide contraceptive coverage at no additional cost is so important:

1) Birth control is expensive. Costs are a major barrier to women’s access to contraception. High costs for contraception decrease women’s utilization of prevention methods and often cause them to turn to less effective methods that are more affordable. Studies show that even women with private insurance pay a significant portion of their contraceptive cost. A recent study found that insured women paid about 50 percent of the total costs for oral contraceptives, even though the typical out-of-pocket cost of non-contraceptive drugs is only 33 percent. Oral contraceptives can cost as much $1,210 dollars a year for women without insurance. As a result, nearly one in four women with household incomes of less than $75,000 have put off a doctor’s visit for birth control to save money in the past year. Half of young adult women report using their method inconsistently because of high costs.

2) Contraception has numerous health benefits. A Harvard Medical School study found that oral contraceptives reduced the risk of ovarian cancer by 10 to 12 percent during the first year of use and by about 50 percent after five years of use. It also prevents significant health risks to women and infants by allowing women and couples to achieve healthy birth intervals and prevent unintended pregnancy. Having too short a gap between pregnancies has been linked to negative health outcomes, like low birth weight, preterm birth, and small size for gestational age. Unintended pregnancy is also linked to several negative outcomes for women and children’s health, including delayed attainment of prenatal care, economic hardships, and relationship problems. Publicly funded contraceptive services have decreased unintended pregnancy among health center clients by as much as 78 percent, studies show.

3) Birth control usage is nearly universal. Conservative efforts to deny access to contraception are fundamentally out of step with the values and practices of the American people. Ninety-nine percent of all sexually active women, and 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women have birth control other than a natural method in their lifetime. Recent polls show that most Americans support access to birth control and don’t believe an employer should be able to decide what kind of medical care a woman should receive.

4) Providing no-cost contraceptive coverage is cost effective. A recent study shows that it costs employers 15–17 percent more not to provide coverage for contraception than to provide it. Every dollar invested by the government in contraception saves $3.74 in Medicaid expenditures for care related to unintended pregnancies. In 2008, services provided at publicly funded family planning clinics resulted in a net savings of $5.1 billion.

5) It’s about more than birth control. As important as contraception is, the preventive care regulation is about more than access to birth control. It covers a wide range of services specific to women’s health, including cancer screening with Pap smears, HPV DNA testing, mammograms, and colonoscopies; domestic violence screening and counseling; and breastfeeding supports, among others. It also insures services like immunizations, dietary counseling, and cholesterol and blood pressure screening, to name only a few, to 54 million men, women, and children.