A Republican Senate candidate in Virginia is attempting to portray Obamacare as a barrier to birth control access, downplaying the fact that the health reform law is responsible for expanding no-cost contraception to millions of American women. During a debate on Tuesday night, GOP contender Ed Gillespie claimed that repealing Obamacare is an important step to ensure that more women can get birth control.
Gillespie is one of several Republican candidates who have recently come out in favor of over-the-counter birth control, something that reproductive rights advocates see as a political move to win over female voters who may be skeptical of their stances on women’s health issues. During Tuesday’s face-off against U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D), Gillespie reasserted his support for that policy, saying that Obamacare hampers women’s ability to obtain birth control pills at their local pharmacy without getting a prescription from their doctor first.
“The reason that non-prescription birth control, and other non-prescription drugs, are not covered is because that’s the rule in Obamacare,” Gillespie said. “My point is that if you replaced Obamacare with market-oriented reforms, people could purchase the insurance of their choice. Many women would purchase plans that would cover over-the-counter non-prescription birth control pills.”
Attempting to frame his position in terms of women’s choice and health, the candidate added, “I have faith in the women of Virginia to make those determinations about what is the best plan and policy for them and their medical needs, not to have a set proscription in terms of what plans you can and cannot buy, and ‘We will tell you from the federal government what you can and cannot buy.’”
It’s true that Obamacare currently stipulates that over-the-counter birth control can only be covered if women obtain a prescription, a policy that health experts want to change. But repealing the law altogether isn’t the solution that reproductive rights advocates favor — especially considering the fact that Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate, which requires insurers to cover all FDA-approved birth control methods without charging an additional co-pay, has made contraception more affordable for millions of women. Without that policy in place, the insurance market would likely return to charging women for birth control, something that used to make some of the most effective methods of contraception, like IUDs, too expensive for many people to afford.
“We strongly believe that the contraceptive coverage guarantee under the ACA is a real game changer in getting to the larger goal around increasing contraceptive access and use among women,” Sneha Barot, a senior public policy associate at Guttmacher who co-wrote a report about the policies to effectively expand access to contraception, told ThinkProgress in a recent interview.
And in a policy statement warning candidates to refrain from using over-the-counter birth control as a “political tool,” the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the advocacy arm of the largest group of OB-GYNs in the country, took a similar stance. “ACOG strongly supports the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that mandates insurance coverage of birth control, as well as other preventive services, without cost-sharing for the patient,” the doctors’ group wrote. “ACOG remains firmly in support of comprehensive strategies to increase adoption of more-effective methods and to provide all women with the contraceptives they need at no cost.”
Despite Gillespie’s assertion about the need to repeal Obamacare, the health reform law isn’t the hurdle standing in the way to making over-the-counter birth control into a reality. Getting rid of the prescription requirement is just one piece of a larger puzzle. Drug manufacturers would also likely be required to submit an application to the Food and Drug Administration to get approval for over-the-counter status, a process that could take some time.
Contraceptive policy is complicated, and Republican lawmakers have been muddying the waters for months in an attempt to appear more supportive of women. For instance, after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of craft store chain Hobby Lobby, a decision that angered female voters across the country, GOP leaders introduced a measure affirming the party’s stance on birth control. But that legislation was totally meaningless, simply asserting that contraception is legal. It wouldn’t do anything to address the cost barriers to birth control for women whose insurance plans don’t cover it.