via National Women’s Law Center, who has teamed up with Planned Parenthood and bloggers such as yours truly to discuss the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services that “women’s health preventive services should be included in all new health care plans.” These preventive services include “contraception, yearly well-woman visits, support for breast feeding, counseling for sexually transmitted infections, and screening and counseling for domestic violence, among others that health insurers should be requires to cover at no cost to the woman.” If these recommendations are approved by HHS (and it’s pretty certain that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will do so) then insurance companies must cover prescription birth control without charging co-pays.
Now, I agree with other bloggers that this is a great news. Having coverage for prescription drugs in general is a good thing, and not having to pay anything at all for prescription birth control is even better. At the risk of sounding like a party poop, though, I’d just like to draw on my most recent work is on the history of emergency contraception (the book will be out with Rutgers in October) to make an important point about affordability and access. As many of you know, certain brands of EC are now available over-the-counter (OTC). However, OTC products are not covered by health insurance. So, a switch to OTC status increases access by removing the restriction of the prescription, but can decrease access by raising the cost. Maybe this won’t be that problematic: if women can afford regular birth control, they will have less need for a “back-up” method. According to Elizabeth Westley from the International Consortium for Emergency Contraception, “While it is not clear exactly how over-the-counter methods such as levonorgestrel-alone brands of EC (Plan B One-Step and Next Choice) would be covered, EC is clearly a part of the report’s recommendations.”
Also, there are efforts to make regular oral contraceptives available without prescription (I have an article about this in a forthcoming book Prescribed: Writing, Filling, Using, and Abusing the Prescription in Modern America, edited by Elizabeth Watkins and Jeremy Greene, that will be coming out with Johns Hopkins University Press in the fall). Therefore, the issue of how to help women pay for non-prescription contraception needs to be addressed too.