Debate Forum Topic, 9/6/11

By Joel Pett By Joel Pett

Medical panel recommends free birth control as part of Obama’s health plan

By Joel Pett

By Joel Pett

A panel of experts advising the government meets in November to begin considering what kind of preventive care for women should be covered at no cost to the patient, as required under President Barack Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010.  A new report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) — which deals exclusively with women’s health and reproductive issues — recommends that contraceptives, sterilization and reproductive education should be covered by health insurance plans with no cost to patients under the health care reform law. The report was commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of an effort to determine what health services should fall under the directive of the new law which calls for finding preventive health measures.

Today, almost all health insurance plans cover prescription contraceptives. Medicaid, the health care program for low-income individuals, also covers prescriptive contraceptives.

Under most health insurance plans, birth control such as hormone pills and implantable devices are partially covered, but require patients to contribute some portion of the costs as a co-pay. Surveys indicate that nearly one in three women find it difficult to pay for even the co-pay portion of birth control prescriptions, and that’s why the U.S. has a far higher unintended-pregnancy rate than other industrialized countries. The IOM and other women health advocates believe making family-planning services available at no cost will help millions of women prevent unintended pregnancy and thereby reduce the need for abortion.

According to a new report by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, the number of unintended pregnancies among poor women in Ohio and across the country is on the rise. It finds that while only about five percent of women ages 15 to 44 have an unintended pregnancy, the rate has increased dramatically among the poor. With co-pays that can reach $25 or even $50 a month for oral contraceptives, even insured women can find the monthly cost difficult to cover.

Opponents of the recommendation such as the Family Research Council, a faith-based nonprofit organization, believe that the recommendation may create a dilemma for some consumers.  They suggest there are many people with conscience objections. If the recommendation is enacted, they will be forced to pay insurance premiums which will ultimately cover these things that violate their conscience. They believe the question is whether the government should mandate that every health plan will cover these drug costs.

The National Catholic Bioethics Center, a Philadelphia think tank whose work reflects church teachings, takes a slightly different approach: “We don’t consider it to be health care, but a lifestyle choice. We think there are other ways to avoid having children than by ingesting chemicals paid for by health insurance.

The panel convened by the IOM will hold its first meeting November 16 to begin work on recommendations to HHS. The department has until August 2012 to make its decision.

Forum Question of the Week:
Should the government provide free birth control and other reproductive services as preventative health care measures under the new health care law?

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