Politicians trying to take away no-copay birth control have a huge image problem on their hands. It turns out that nearly 69 percent of Americans support health plans covering prescription birth control at no cost, and 57 percent of women voters say they would be more likely to support a candidate who opposes allowing employers to refuse to cover birth control.
It’s no wonder that a recent report issued by top conservative strategists concluded that women voters regard the GOP as “intolerant,” “lacking in compassion” and “stuck in the past.”
So what strategy are these politicians using to wiggle out of the hole they dug for themselves? With less than two months until Election Day, some politicians are suddenly tripping over each other to propose that select forms of birth control be made available over the counter. This represents a cynical, unworkable choice between birth control access and affordability, and it is being proposed by politicians like Thom Tillis, North Carolina’s candidate for U.S. Senate, who has a long record of wanting to deny women access to birth control coverage.
Tillis and his allies underestimate North Carolina women if they think we’ll be fooled by this empty gesture. More than 48 million women nationally are already eligible for the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, and they refuse to go back to paying out-of-pocket for contraceptives.
Women need access to affordable birth control to prevent unintended pregnancies and plan our lives. Birth control is basic health care because preventing unintended pregnancy is a public health issue, and it should be covered like all other health care.
Indeed, the suggestion that women should once again pay out-of-pocket for their birth control – instead of having it covered by insurance like every other benefit – is discrimination against women.
Making some forms of birth control available over the counter is meaningless if politicians like Tillis had their way and the birth control benefit were overturned. The 1.4 million women in North Carolina who are already eligible for the full range of birth control without a copay would pay a steep economic price.
They would lose their individual savings of up to $600 a year because health plans generally do not cover OTC products. American women at large saved $483 million this past year, and that, too, would become a footnote in the history books.
Studies show that out-of-pocket costs related to birth control are a major barrier to access. More than half of all American women ages 18 to 34 report having struggled with the cost of birth control at some point, resulting in inconsistent use.
In addition, some of the most effective birth control methods are simply impossible to stock on drugstore shelves. The IUD, for example, requires an appointment with a health care provider. Not all women can take the pill. It is important that a woman is able to consult with her doctor and pick the birth control method that works best for her. This is the reason the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine recommended that the Affordable Care Act require all insurance companies to cover the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods without a copay under the preventive services benefit.
We at Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund support any effort to expand access to birth control, including efforts to make some forms available over the counter. But we are not fooled by the empty gestures of these politicians, who are acting in bad faith.
Because not a single contraceptive manufacturer has submitted an application to the FDA to make its products available over the counter, these political proposals are meaningless.
Tillis and his fellow opponents of women’s health care are cynically playing us. Women are watching the candidates and are too smart to fall for this deceptive political shell game.
Melissa Reed is vice president for Public Affairs at Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund.