This past week, just a few months after the Supreme Court’s unjust Hobby Lobby decision, the California legislature moved to progress reproductive justice by passing the Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act. The bill is on its way to Governor Brown’s desk to be signed, and it is imperative that he do so. The Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act would require that health insurance plans cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, including birth control pills, IUD’s, and emergency contraception, without cost-sharing, restrictions, denials, or delays. This will help all women be able to obtain the type of contraception they prefer or need regardless of their socio-economic situation. For young women like me, contraception is a necessary, but costly, medicine. Depending on the type, contraception can cost up to $200. That price skyrockets to as high as $1,000 if insurance does not cover it. For a medical necessity, this is outrageous and unaffordable.
The benefits from expanded contraceptive coverage are numerous. One benefit is a reduced rate of unintended pregnancies and abortions. According to the California Health Benefit Review Program, expanded coverage would prevent over 51,000 unintended pregnancies and over 20,000 abortions. As a society, we can agree that legislation that makes abortion rarer and prevents children from being born to unprepared parents or parents who cannot support them benefits everybody.
Expanded coverage also benefits California’s economy. CHBRP estimates that the bill will generate cost savings of over $216 million, $123 million of which will go to private employers, meaning more money for hiring and investing in their workers. And the cost of the insurance coverage needed to create those savings is miniscule – CHBRP estimates that insurance premiums would only increase $0.35 to $0.71 per member per month.
The benefits of expanded coverage are not just in savings or in reducing abortions and unintended pregnancies, but also in the freedom women obtain to control their own health decisions. The decision of which type of contraception a woman uses should not be made by her boss in negotiations with insurance companies. Bosses do not know the details of their employees’ medical history, information that is needed when choosing medicines. After all, would you want a contractor you hired to paint your house telling you what kind of antibiotics to take for strep throat? Probably not, because they do not know your medical history or how to diagnose and cure strep. But if your doctor told you to take that same medicine, you would listen, because they are experts in medicine. That is why the decision about birth control should be made by a woman and her doctor, not by bosses or insurance companies.
It is not enough, however, for women and their doctors to be making the decision. For many women in college (and for women generally), the price of birth control is too costly or our preferred method is not covered. Yet we need this medicine – and not just to prevent pregnancy. One of my best friends uses birth control to regulate her period. She used to get terrible cramps and her cycle was highly irregular, but with birth control, those problems have disappeared. My birth control pills help control the severe acne I have developed over the last year. Other women use contraception to control Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Contraception is a medical necessity. That is why it must be affordable and all types must be covered, which SB 1053 ensures.
Not all of the approximately 61 million American women who use birth control use it for sex; contraception has far more benefits than just pregnancy prevention. Some women only use it for that purpose, which is fine; it is a legitimate healthcare concern. I originally wanted birth control for that reason. I did not want to get pregnant in college because I did not have the maturity or the resources to raise a child (I still don’t). Regardless of what motivates using it - health issues like PCOS, moderating acne, or simply preventing pregnancy – birth control is a legitimate and commonly used part of medical care for over 99% of American women. And like any other commonly used medicine, it should not cost women exorbitant amounts to obtain nor should it require a game of bureaucratic hopscotch.
At age eighteen, I went to my mom and told her I wanted to start using birth control. I was starting college, I reasoned, and thought it was important to ensure I was taking care of myself. She agreed and made me an appointment with her OB/GYN, who, after a long discussion with me about my health and habits, prescribed me birth control pills. Pills, I should add, which cost $50 for a pack that would last four weeks, or $650 a year. Fortunately, the pills I use are a commonly prescribed brand, so the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate lowered the price to zero. I got lucky, but many women did not.
While we were set back nationally by the Hobby Lobby decision, California has the chance to take a step forward for women and reproductive justice. I urge Governor Brown to sign the Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act and help all women in California be able to make decisions about their own health without having to worry about access and affordability. That would be real justice.
Hannah Seligman is the Summer Policy Intern at the National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles and is beginning her fourth year at New York University where she is majoring in Politics and double-minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies and History.