Opinion Brief

Is it time for all insurers to pay for birth control?

Conservatives howl after a non-partisan group says contraceptives should be covered as preventive care under the new health care reform law

The non-partisan Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a report on Tuesday recommending that birth control be classified as preventive medicine under President Obama's Affordable Care Act. The IOM says such a change would lower the rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion, help women better space out their pregnancies, and spur a number of beneficial health developments for women. The guideline is non-binding, but if the Department of Health and Human Services adopts it, insurers would have to cover 100 percent of the cost of contraceptives, with no co-pay. Is it as important to help prevent unwanted pregnancy as it is to prevent disease?

This change is long overdue: "Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned," says Vanessa Cullins in The New York Times, "but affordable contraception can change that." Requiring insurers to pay for birth control for the millions of women who don't have the money for it will prevent abortions, and "improve the health of women and families." It's the smart and caring thing to do."Make birth control affordable"

But pregnancy is "not a disease": The IOM blew a chance to promote "life-affirming and truly compassionate" health care, says Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, as quoted by PR Newswire. It should be pushing real "life-saving" coverage for the poor, not ramming "controversial elective practices" down our throats. "Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible.""Bishops' pro-life chair strongly opposes recommended mandate for birth control, sterilization in private health plans"

Conservatives oppose this guideline at their peril: Every dollar that supports family planning clinics saves an estimated $3.74 in health care costs associated with unwanted pregnancies, says Sharon Lerner at The Nation. And a recent survey found that "84 percent of respondents — including an impressive 73 percent of Republicans — support birth control as preventive care." Conservative groups can, and will, fight this, but they should keep in mind that the public supports this health-promoting, money-saving measure. That means jumping on board "isn't just the right thing to do medically — it's politically savvy, too.""Eliminate co-pays for contraception, IOM report recommends"

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