Under Obamacare, privately insured women are increasingly accessing contraceptive services without paying an additional co-pay, according to a new study from the Guttmacher Institute. The study’s authors point out that their data proves there’s a real demand for affordable birth control among U.S. women.
The researchers surveyed data from women between the ages of 18 and 39, comparing the co-pays they paid for their birth control method before and after Obamacare’s contraceptive coverage requirement took effect for most insurance plans. Between those two time periods, they saw a sharp increase in the number of women who had no out-of-pocket costs for their birth control pills, jumping from just 15 percent to 40 percent. There was a similar increase among women using the vaginal ring, from 23 percent to 52 percent:
In August, the Health and Human Services Department estimated that 27 million women had already gained access to this contraceptive coverage. But that didn’t reveal how many people were actually taking advantage of this benefit. The Guttmacher researchers point out that, considering the dramatic uptick in the number of women paying no out-of-pocket costs for contraception, it’s clear that it’s being put to good use.
“Our analysis provides the first quantitative evidence that the cost-sharing protection under the ACA is indeed working as intended,” Lawrence B. Finer, the lead author of the study, noted in a statement. “Large numbers of women who couldn’t previously do so are now obtaining birth control without co-pays or deductibles, which allows them to more easily attain contraception’s well-documented health, social and economic benefits.”
And the researchers point out that this trend is only likely to continue, as more insurance plans lose their “grandfathered” status and adopt Obamacare’s new coverage requirements. But there’s still somewhat of a public awareness gap. Most women don’t actually realize that the health law’s contraceptive provision is in effect, or don’t understand exactly what types of services are covered. Furthermore, some insurance companies are still charging co-pays for services that the law now requires them to fully cover, a mistake that muddies the waters even further.
It’s important to note that Obamacare’s birth control provision doesn’t mean these women are getting “free birth control,” even though that’s a common trope among conservative opponents to the law. These women are accessing birth control through their private, employer-sponsored health insurance policies — in other words, it’s a benefit that’s directly tied to their job. Women do pay for the benefits that are included in those insurance plans, both by working for their employer and by paying a monthly premium. Under Obamacare, they simply don’t have to pay an additional out-of-pocket cost for the benefits that are specific to their gender.
The long-term societal benefits of providing women with access to affordable contraception have been well-documented. Nonetheless, controversy over this aspect of the health reform law hasn’t abated. Right-wing lawmakers continually push to repeal this provision, and the Supreme Court recently agreed to take up a court challenge against it.
Women’s health advocates are celebrating the news. “This data confirms that the Affordable Care Act is already working for millions of women and their families — and we expect that number to keep growing,” the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Cecile Richards, noted in a statement. “We know that when cost isn’t a factor, women switch to the birth control method that’s right for them, use it reliably, and experience fewer unintended pregnancies. And that’s good news for everyone.”