By Toni Panetta
With the second anniversary of the Affordable Care Act upon us, now is an excellent time to examine how women are benefiting from provisions of the President’s health reform law. Under the Affordable Care Act, birth control is included in a package of preventive women’s health care services, along with mammograms, screening for gestational diabetes, screening & counseling for sexually transmitted infections and HIV, and other services, that must be covered in all newly issued policies beginning August 1, 2012, without women having to pay a co-pay, coinsurance, or deductible. With the exception of insurance plans offered by churches, synagogues, mosques or other places of worship, which is exempt from providing contraceptive coverage, all health insurance plans offered by employers to their employees must comply with this rule.
Since that provision of the President’s health reform law was finalized in January, anti-birth control forces, including anti-choice members of Congress, GOP presidential front-runners and the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops, have claimed this rule violates employers’ right to limit what type of health care services they will cover for their employees. However, President Obama announced an accommodation for businesses like hospitals, colleges, and charities that employ individuals of different faiths and that provide products or services to the public — although the businesses themselves might have ties to a particular religion – that exempts these types of businesses from paying for contraceptives for their employees. The revision accommodates religious liberty while protecting the health of women by:
- Ensuring women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she works;
- Maintaining exemptions for churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship from covering contraception on the basis of religious objections; and
- Requiring a woman’s insurance company to directly offer her contraceptive care, free of charge, if a woman works for a religious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan.
Yet as recently as last week, the U.S. Senate voted on an amendment to a transportation bill that would have let any employer or health insurer refuse to provide health insurance coverage for any health care service that the employer or insurer opposed based on moral or religious grounds. While this amendment (the Blunt Amendment) certainly would have allowed all employers to opt out of providing no-copay birth control coverage, the effects are much more far-reaching: employers and insurers would have grounds to refuse coverage for any service to which they might claim a “moral” objection, including blood transfusions, HIV treatment, alcohol and other substance-abuse counseling, in-vitro services for same-sex couples, STI counseling, prenatal care for single women, or mental-health care. At its heart, the Blunt Amendment, along with four other similar bills in Congress that have yet to come for a vote, could repeal key provisions of the President’s health reform law that ensure Americans receive the health care services they need to address their unique medical needs.
At NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado Education Foundation, we have developed a fact sheet that provides additional background about this situation, information about the full range of women’s preventive health services that must be covered without cost-sharing, how women could save up to $39,000 throughout their lifetimes because of this important provision and answers to FAQs should you receive questions. You can download the fact sheet here.
Toni Panetta serves as political director for NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, a not-for-profit organization that uses the political process to effect changes in public policy to ensure all Colorado women and their families have access to the information and reproductive health care services they need throughout their lifetimes. As political director, Ms. Panetta coordinates the organization’s public policy and political activities.