State Sen. Constance N. Johnson praised President Obama’s administration this week for transforming women’s health care in America by classifying birth control as preventative care – an issue the Oklahoma County democrat has been advocating since getting into office.
The Institute of Medicine medical advisory panel recommended the changes to the Health and Human Services Department last month. The panel said contraceptives should qualify as preventive care, which insurers must fully cover under Obama’s federal health care reform plan.
“This is a common sense issue, and one I’ve fought for over the years. Statistics show that nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and about 40 percent of unwanted pregnancies end in abortion,” said Johnson, D-Oklahoma County. “If women had access to more affordable or free birth control, we would see a decrease in abortions, teen pregnancy as well as unintended and unwanted pregnancies in adults, which many times lead to cases of neglected and abused children.”
Johnson authored Senate Bill 494 in 2009 to require coverage for contraception. The bill was not given a hearing in the Senate Retirement and Insurance Committee. That same year, she sponsored an amendment to House Bill 1595 with the same language, but the measure was killed as well. Senate Bills 495 (2009) and 1459 (2008) also called for insurance coverage of birth control, but also failed to receive approval.
“It’s been a challenging process because we have spent a lot of time in the legislature debating abortion and women’s rights when we should have been focusing on providing better access to preventive care,” said Johnson.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, state legislatures across the nation introduced more than 900 bills this year dealing with reproductive health. The Institute reported that the measures this year are “more hostile to abortion rights” than in the past citing that 56 percent of the bills introduced sought to restrict abortion access compared with 38 percent last year. The Institute found that in many states the three top agenda items were insurance coverage limitations for abortion, restriction of abortion after a specific point in gestation, and ultrasound requirements. In contrast, there were few bills proposing proactive initiatives to expand access to reproductive health-related services such as insurance coverage for birth control.
“Instead of taking women’s rights away, this option will help them better manage their families and not worry about unintended pregnancies,” said Johnson. “Having contraceptives deemed as preventive care will be a win-win for everyone. It will not only save women a significant amount of money each year, it will also save our national and state budgets through lowered welfare costs and other government-sponsored child and family care services.”
An estimated 15.3 million women in the U.S. use hormonal birth control, which is one of the most frequently-prescribed medications in America. Women can spend anywhere from $15 to over $60 a month ($180 to over $720 a year) for birth control pills plus annual doctor’s fees.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, nearly every $1 invested in family planning services saves the government around $4 in the potential costs of unintended pregnancies.
A recent national poll found that 78 percent of Americans support government-subsidized birth control.
The women’s prevention package will be available January 1, 2013. Other preventive services that will be covered besides birth control will be one preventive care visit per year, screening for diabetes during pregnancy, screening for the virus that causes cervical cancer for women 30 and older, annual HIV counseling and screening for sexually active women, screening for and counseling about domestic violence, and breast pumps for new mothers.