Population Matters

Celebrating National Women’s Health Week

May 17th, 2013

This week is National Women’s Health Week and given the expanded coverage that is going into effect as a result of the Affordable Care Act there’s lot to celebrate this year.  Not everyone, however, is in a celebratory mood and many are downright unhappy with the expanded coverage.

The House of Representatives celebrated this week by voting for the 37th time to repeal the law.  Yes, that’s right:  the 37th time.  That raises the question, “What is so bad about Obamacare?”  The ACA, after all, has been a huge victory for women’s health.  Prior to the ACA insurance companies could charge women higher premiums than men just because they were women, and could deny women coverage for preexisting conditions like breast cancer or pregnancy.  But thanks to the ACA, they cannot do that any longer.  Today, because of the ACA, 45 million women and counting have received preventative care with no co-pay.

Under the regulations approved by the Department of Health and Human Services, preventative care includes well woman exams, pap smears, mammograms, and birth control.  So what’s wrong with that?  A lot apparently, particularly the part about access to contraceptives.  In the past two years, there has been a firestorm of protest from social conservatives who insist that birth control should not be classified as preventative care.  Excuse me?  By what screwed up logic is the prevention of pregnancy not a preventative measure?  Birth control is an essential part of women’s health care and having birth control available with no co-pay takes women’s health care decisions out of the hands of politicians and insurance companies, and puts the power where it belongs: with women.

On another controversial front, the U.S. Justice Department is celebrating by appealing a federal judge’s ruling that would make Plan B, the most popular form of emergency contraception, available for anyone without a prescription. After the judge’s ruling, the Department of Health and Human Services lowered the age at which a female could obtain emergency contraception without a prescription from 17 to 15. The judge, however, insists that the age restriction should be eliminated altogether, and the Administration is appealing the decision.

Is that how we should be celebrating National Women’s Health Week?  I don’t think so.  Emergency contraception reduces the risk of pregnancy after contraceptive failure or unprotected sex up to 120 hours after, but is most effective in the first 24 hours.  It is important, therefore, that women obtain access to emergency contraception in a timely manner.  The current restrictions can lead to confusion and human error, effectively denying many women access to emergency contraception, particularly young women and those without any government- issued identification.  By making emergency contraception available over the counter to all women regardless of age it would ensure that women have better access to emergency contraception.

When it comes to women’s health, there’s a lot to celebrate this year…but the battle over women’s health rages on. Too bad.

Posted by Jennie Wetter, Director of Public Policy

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