Birth Control Battle

When it comes to birth control, the choice that most insurance plans offer women isn't much of a choice at all. While the majority of insurance plans will shell out for an abortion or sterilization, 67 percent of them won't pay for contracpetion such as the pill, even though almost all of the plans cover prescription drugs generally, according to the Allan Guttmacher Institute. And even plans that do cover some type of contraception usually don't include all five of the most common -- the pill, the IUD, diaphragms, Norplant and Depo Provera. Less than 20 percent of traditional plans and 40 percent of HMOs let women choose between all five methods.That's why Rep. Harry Reid, D-Nev. and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-MN, have introduced the "Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act" in both the House and Senate. The act would force the 97 percent of insurance plans that cover prescription drugs generally to include prescription contraceptives as well."Under many of today's health plans, a woman's insurance often covers a prescription to alleviate allergy symptoms but not a prescription to prevent an unintended and life altering pregnancy," said Snowe.Not only do many plans refuse to pay for contraceptives themselves, they also won't pay for gynecologist visits to get birth control, said Planned Parenthood. "The more effective forms of contraception are generally also the most expensive, often costing hundreds of dollars at the outset of patient use. Women and their families who must pay out of pocket may well opt for less expensive and sometimes less effective methods, thus increasing the number of unintended pregnancies."Many women end up paying for gynecological care themselves, even when they have insurance. In fact, women of reproductive age spend 68 percent more money in out-of-pocket health care costs than men. "Much of the gender gap is in expenditures due to contraceptive supplies and services," Planned Parenthood said."If men were the one's who had to pay for prescription contraception, it would have been covered a long time ago," said Rep. Reid. Reid is far from a feminist -- he's staunchly anti-choice when it comes to abortion. But the gender gap in health care coverage is so glaring that he's teamed up with the pro-choice Snowe to try and remedy it.Though most bills that provide access to birth control face opposition from anti-choice legislators, the fact that Reid is co-sponsoring this act indicates that some have caught on to the idea that more birth control means fewer abortions. Still, some are expecting resistance. "The legislation will probably face a challenge by the hardest-core elements of the anti-abortion lobby," said a statement by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. In preparation, the insurance industry is already mounting a fight, the society said. Planned Parenthood estimates that the contraceptive coverage would cost most companies about $16 extra per enrollee annually, far less than the cost of maternity care or abortions.The need for contraceptive coverage is clear, said Snowe. "This year, there will be 3.6 million unintended pregnancies -- over 57 percent of all pregnancies in America -- and half will end in abortion. These are staggering statistics. But what's even more staggering is that it doesn't have to be this way."

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