Holy shit! Free birth control for insured women in the U.S.

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In a move that gives the finger to conservative misogynists, the Obama administration has just taken a long-needed step in a sensible direction:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidelines in Washington Monday requiring health insurance plans beginning on or after August 1, 2012 to cover several women’s preventive services, including birth control and voluntary sterilization.

They’re calling this a “broad expansion” on Obama’s healthcare plan. I remember the plan talking about more coverage for “preventive” medicine, but nothing this sweeping for women (maybe I missed something – it wasn’t that easy to find details at the time, interestingly).

Y’all, this is a really big deal. And not just for women who want to plan their families or lack thereof, but to women with health issues requiring birth control pills. These women have typically been excluded from coverage for and/or had to pay the same (often huge) co-pays as women taking the pill to avoid pregnancy – and largely because the conservative element in this country doesn’t care who it hurts in its rush to punish women for having sex [with someone other than them]. (I’ll just say this in passing: there isn’t a Tea Party member who wouldn’t chuck a hundred thousand fetuses under a bus for a nickel, as long as they’re not related to his richest voters. I’m really sick of these assholes using religion to hurt people, and I’m sick of religious people not getting that they’re being played for fools by them. Rant over.)

Did anybody else have to read this from three different sources before she could bring herself to believe it? I did. I guess I’d given up on anything this progressive ever happening in the U.S. That said, the new guidelines won’t help everybody (from the above CNN link):

The Obama administration released an amendment to the prevention regulation that allows religious institutions offering health insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services.

That’s unfair to women who work for religious-related organizations that have no expectation of their employees actually sharing their religious views (then again, with the right pressure, maybe those organizations will offer the new coverage). But this seems to be the only concession to conservatives, and I’m rather amazed by that after watching in disgust as Democrats spent most of the past 18 years giving up way more than necessary to these asshole bigots, even when they had a majority. Check out a conservative response to this concession:

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough,” said Jeanne Monahan, a policy expert for the conservative Family Research Council. As it now stands, the conscience clause offers only a “fig leaf” of protection, she added, because it may not cover faith-based groups engaged in social action and other activities that do not involve worship.

Yeah. Because when your church is, say, busy lobbying to control the government it doesn’t pay taxes to, you don’t want to be paying for birth control, too. Pay your enormous income taxes, dear churches, thereby putting the US back into a surplus in a single quarter, and maybe then we’ll talk. Until then, your entitlement and privilege are showing. Render unto Caesar, Christian.

As for uninsured women, supposedly Medicaid has them covered, though I’m not familiar enough with it to know how well it does the job. [ETA: see here for Sylvia Sybil's personal experience with it.]

This new guideline also won’t do you any good under your present policy. The L.A. Times reports:

The guidelines go into effect on Monday, requiring insurers to provide free coverage of preventive care services for women in all new plans beginning in August 2012.

And the government page laying out the details says:

These guidelines are effective August 1, 2011.  Accordingly, non-grandfathered plans and issuers are required to provide coverage without cost sharing consistent with these guidelines in the first plan year (in the individual market, policy year) that begins on or after August 1, 2012.

So your existing policy, if you’re lucky enough to have one, is under a “grandfather clause” exempting it from complying. But I would recommend that employees pressure their employers to bargain until they get this coverage added to existing policies. This may be the beginning of a cultural shift – the natural backlash to the conservative bullshit that was the narcissistic male’s backlash to feminism. The more we push it, the further it’ll go before the pendulum starts swinging back.

It sounds like every single birth control pill and device is to be covered, free to the patient. This is awesome, since one woman’s perfect birth control pill is another woman’s side effect nightmare from hell, and some women can’t tolerate pills at all. And there’s a lot more to this than free birth control. Free wellness exams, free gestational diabetes screening, human papillomavirus testing, STD counseling, costs for renting breastfeeding equipment, counseling for domestic abuse and more.

And yes, the morning after pill is covered. Really.

It’s the government, so there will probably be some bugs in the execution. But the spirit of this new guideline is just… wow. It’s saying women are valuable to the government even if religion considers them expendable vending machines that dole out babies to men. It’s saying the U.S. has a ridiculously high infant mortality rate for a developed nation, and that’s got to stop. It’s suggesting that reproductive choices are a right for women, not a privilege. It’s recognizing that abstinence isn’t a practical form of birth control, especially given how common rape is in this country. It… I think it’s saying a whole lot more to me, but it’ll be days before it all unwinds in my head.

And research suggests the public is behind this new guideline. That’s reassuring too, because conservatives will attack it legally. A lot of judges will side with them, so a lack of cultural support – the kind that makes elected folk worry about the next election – is the best tool to use against them.

Remember when religion wasn’t supposed to be part of US politics, because we all believed in the separation of church and state? Yeah, some of you are probably too young. Welcome back to a glimmer of the path this country used to be on before the Southern Baptists bought the Republican Party in 1979 and declared war on everybody but “right”-thinking white men. No way am I saying wow, we’re done, we’re home free – I’m very much hoping this is just the beginning, because a whole lot more needs to be done, both for women and for the general good of the country.

I’m just saying: that’s a pretty damn good beginning.

Comments

  1. says

    This is awesome! And about frickin’ time, too. :D

    The cynic in me is a little put out that all of women’s reproductive health, including pap smears and STD testing, is being lumped together under “birth control” in headlines, but enh, that’s a minor complaint considering we American women just scored a major advance in our healthcare.

    As for uninsured women, supposedly Medicaid has them covered, though I’m not familiar enough with it to know how well it does the job.

    I’m uninsured. We’ve been applying for Medicaid once a year since we plummeted past the poverty line five years ago. This year the two minor children were approved for the first time, although the children over 18 (including me) and Mom were denied yet again. Even back when our only income was food stamps, we were denied.

    Now, I am on a very limited form of Medicaid that Planned Parenthood helped me set up; it covers my PCOS pills (birth control) and wellness exams. It sounds like the new insurance plan is more extensive than what I have. (I tried getting domestic abuse counseling and was told I was ineligible because I didn’t have the right kind of relationship with my abuser. I’m still slightly bitter over this.) For non-reproductive health issues, I have to go to the charity clinic where I lie about my sexuality and the doctor says a prayer over me at every session.

    I’m also not sure how this affects women too rich for Medicaid but working jobs with no health benefits. There really is a large gap between insurance and Medicaid. My sister and her husband, for example, who are both working for wages (not salaries) with no benefits, but earn enough to keep them out of poverty as long as there are no extraordinary expenses.

  2. Azzy says

    I honestly thought this news story was an April 1st prank… until I remembered it was August. Someone posted it on a a forum I frequent, and I honstly thought it was fake. It’s not until I saw it on this site as well that I believed it.

    Even though I don’t live in the US, I can’t help but feel tremendously glad about this.

  3. The Other Anne says

    This will save me an entire months rent per year on medication that was prescribed by a doctor. Finally.

  4. Dani says

    YES!!!!!! Though, the part about religious institutions being able to choose whether or not they will comply (and the Family Research Council’s response) disgust me to no end. But, ranting about it right now would do no good (and take way to long to type), so I’ll just concentrate on the positive. Yay!

  5. says

    Sylvia Sybil, thank you for sharing all that. I’ve linked to your comment in the article. I was afraid that was the case – never seen a government program fail to let millions of people slip through the cracks.

    Azzy, we’re still a very influential country, and I think our attitudes can indirectly affect a lot of people around the world as we set an example. This is the best example we’ve set in a very long time.
    The Other Anne, that’s so awesome! It’s a huge expense. I think this could be significant savings for a lot of families as well as single women.
    Dani, I felt the same way. And yet, for the most part, employees of a religious company are going to share that religion’s views on birth control, aren’t they? If that’s true, then it shouldn’t adversely affect many women. I hope. I don’t know where some Christians stand on bc pills for PCOS and other hormone syndromes, because I’ve come across websites where women are trying to treat their own conditions with herbs and stuff because they refuse to take PCOS (and not because they want to get pregnant). :(

  6. Meena says

    Re: employees working for a religious organization sharing their employer’s religious and ethical views: not necessarily. My mother isn’t Catholic (and neither are most of her patients), but she works as a nurse for a Catholic hospice provider (and is mostly happy working there). Her state recently passed a law allowing physician-assisted suicide, and she and most of her co-workers disagree with the church’s policy, which has led to some tension about what services they are allowed to provide to those considering ending their lives. (She also is vehemently pro-choice, but that doesn’t come up in her workplace.) I’m not sure what kind of contraceptive coverage her insurance provides, but I may have to ask.

  7. says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Glad it was useful. And a thought I started and forgot to finish: I’m on a limited form of Medicaid that covers only reproductive health, but my mother, sister and female cousin (who lives with us) are not.

    Re: employees of religious institutions, I’m not sure what the numbers are but I suspect they’re high. In my experience most followers of religion do some interpretation on their own to begin with (the majority of Catholics use birth control, frex). When I went to Catholic school, we all knew which teachers believed in official dogma and which were more lenient. (One teacher caught two lesbians making out in the girls’ bathroom. School rules were to send them to the chaplain/principal; she told them to go back to class and be more careful.)

    Not to mention there’s an entire underclass of people who can’t afford to turn down a paycheck; add a suffering economy and that number grows. I go to a religious clinic to receive healthcare despite being atheist and uncomfortable with religious rituals. I can’t afford to pay more for a secular doctor so I put up with policies I don’t agree with. I’m sure employees are the same way.

  8. sbg says

    Sylvia Sybil,

    Sylvia Sybil
    Not to mention there’s an entire underclass of people who can’t afford to turn down a paycheck; add a suffering economy and that number grows. I go to a religious clinic to receive healthcare despite being atheist and uncomfortable with religious rituals. I can’t afford to pay more for a secular doctor so I put up with policies I don’t agree with. I’m sure employees are the same way.

    I can only speak for me and a handful of my associate contemporary employees and say: we are the same way.

  9. says

    Meena,

    Oh, hospitals didn’t occur to me when I was thinking of religious organizations. I’m also not finding a really clear definition of a what constitutes the sort of organization that will be exempt from the bill. If they ARE exempt, that’s pretty troubling, and we need to start a real wave of cultural pressure that the administration can use to push back that concession in time.

    Sylvia Sybil,

    See Meena’s comment – I have a feeling there are a lot of “religious businesses” that haven’t occurred to me yet, so I’m sure you’re right. It’s troubling.

    I’ve thought of a few other concerns, but they basically go back to issues I have with the health care reform plan in general: as far as I can tell, there are no regulations about premiums, so I fully expect the flipside of all this great stuff we’re getting to be, “Sorry, folks, but because of all this great stuff you’re getting, we have to raise your premiums through the roof. Love, Insurance Company.” That might cancel out – or even outweigh – anything people are saving on this “free” stuff. Also, I’m not sure people are comprehending that in 2014, people like your sister and her husband will be forced to BUY health insurance or face stiff fines. Every time I mention this, middle classers handwave, “Oh, there are provisions for poor people.” But as you well know, the government is a terrible judge of what its citizens can afford.

  10. sbg says

    I confess to not getting why anyone would object on the religious grounds and think that giving religious institutions the right to do whatever (which is, y’know, status quo – no, we don’t have to offer unemployment benefits, so we’re not gonna and don’t expect a severance package if you don’t wear a collar and if you do wear a collar, expect us to bend over backwards to give you boatloads of money for going away after doing a crapass job, etc, etc; no, we don’t have to follow federal regulations regarding continuation of benefits…) isn’t enough. You know what: if a person’s faith is going to keep them from using contraceptives, then why the hell does it matter if they are free to those who have no such faith-based restrictions? Presumably, these people are going to regulate themselves. (OH, BUT SBG, THINK OF THE CHILDREN!)

    I mean, really. Am I just dim? Rhetorical. I’ll never get why some people think their beliefs need to be everyone’s beliefs.

  11. sbg says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    In my particular organization, a LOT is left up to diocesan discretion. Are camps and conference centers affiliated with the church part of the whole, or something different? Retirement communities? Social service agencies? The way that we’re running it at this point, we include a pretty wide variety in our fold.

  12. says

    sbg,

    Ahhh, I didn’t realize they were exempt from all that crap. That’s ridiculous. So, if I want to hire people to work for me, and I get myself technically ordained as a minister in the church of JennZenn, I can dodge all that shit, too? What a racket!

    Okay, I think we need to start a crusade to get all churches with lobbies to start paying taxes and bennies and following employment rules exactly like a business, because when they’re trying to direct government, they’re behaving like a business and not a church. This may be the ultimate “corporate loophole” we need to close. And yes, I’m sort of way off-topic here, but religious privilege IS close to the heart of this matter.

  13. Shaun says

    Heh. I also had to check other sources to believe this. It just seemed too big for the first place for me to hear about it to be Hathor, but there you go.

  14. Patrick McGraw says

    You know what groups were some of the biggest proponents of separation of church and state during the writing of the Constitution?

    Baptists.

  15. says

    sbg, it’s definitely a shortcoming in the new guidelines. That’s why we need to push to expand the new guideline and get rid of that concession – the Obama administration didn’t want it, and if they have enough support from the citizenry, they might be able to bargain it away in the future.

    Shaun, I know, right? ;)

    Patrick McGraw, I think that may reflect the schism between the American and Southern Baptists. At the time of the Constitution writing, there were just “Baptists.” The Southern Baptists broke off because the regular Baptists weren’t being racist and misogynistic enough for them (sorry, but I really can’t see another way to put it, looking at the issues that led to the split). The Southern Baptist church (not all the individuals within it, to be clear) has become such a hypocritical bag of hatemongering that Jimmy Carter left it a few years ago, and he’s a very devout Christian. But they church is not following the Bible – it’s just behaving like a collective narcissist.

    As far as I know, the American Baptists still don’t go around lobbying for hateful policies or to limit the rights of people who aren’t Baptist through draconian legal measures.

  16. Patrick McGraw says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    Yes, the Southern Baptists are a very different group than the (many) other groups of Baptists. And I think your description of them is spot-on. (Though I will admit to some prejudice as a Quaker who believes in that commie “social justice” stuff.)

  17. Dani says

    Jennifer Kesler:
    Dani, I felt the same way. And yet, for the most part, employees of a religious company are going to share that religion’s views on birth control, aren’t they? If that’s true, then it shouldn’t adversely affect many women. I hope. I don’t know where some Christians stand on bc pills for PCOS and other hormone syndromes, because I’ve come across websites where women are trying to treat their own conditions with herbs and stuff because they refuse to take PCOS (and not because they want to get pregnant).

    I think it would be difficult to pinpoint an accurate consensus among Christians about birth control (not including the loud politicians that you so aptly said would “chuck a hundred thousand fetuses under a bus for a nickel, as long as they’re not related to his richest voters” in this). Myself and many of my other Christian friends are pro-bc in any situation (not to mention some of us use birth control for medical purposes, so we kind of have to be), but I’m sure I know others who think it will lead to “sex without consequences” (don’t get me started…), and is therefore a bad thing. Some are also against it because, w/ many pills, it’s possible that the bc will prevent the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, which is considered abortion by many.
    On the whole, I think a lot of it depends on the kind of church someone goes to and the kind of environment they are in, how educated they are about their own bodies, and also how they think about sex. I wonder how privilege also factors into this. I mean, I wonder if some of those Christians who are radically against birth control specifically because they think it leads to “sex without consequences” are also privileged in other ways (along with being Christian); like, they’ve never had a health condition that required them to take bc, or something along those lines.

    Side note: Yikes. I hope hospitals aren’t included in the religious organizations that are exempt. Or, if they are, I hope those in charge do the right thing.

  18. says

    I wonder if some of those Christians who are radically against birth control specifically because they think it leads to “sex without consequences” are also privileged in other ways (along with being Christian); like, they’ve never had a health condition that required them to take bc, or something along those lines.

    Yes, I think in most cases individual Christians just don’t know there are conditions that require hormone treatments that are identical to bc pills, or they know but don’t understand that there really isn’t anything else you can take that will help.

    The Catholic Bishops Group I wrote about a while back (the “conservative misogynists” link) I consider tantamount to murderers, because they were lying that the pill gives you cancer, when in fact it’s a cancer preventative for the very large number of women and girls with PCOS. It’s one thing to be a church goer who doesn’t quite get the problem. It’s quite another to spew lies to advance a religious-political agenda that will actually prevent women from getting needed medical care. I have no doubt those assholes know about PCOS and have rationalized a way to condemn those women to depending on luck that sounds real Jesus-like in their heads.

    If hospitals are exempt, and don’t do the right thing, that will really suck. But I still think this is where we come in. I have a little speech I make every time someone promotes voting as a great thing to do, or puts down someone who doesn’t vote: if all you do is vote, you are a lazy citizen who’s doing nothing, really – politicians don’t care about your vote, they only care about what their campaign financers want. But when we protest, when we get media attention on a cause, when we make our wants and needs heard and amplify the wants and needs of others who aren’t getting heard, that’s when we’re really doing our duty. So if hospital workers get left out, we need to amplify the message that this is wrong.

    Hathor will be doing this, of course. But I think every little blogspot blog, every tweet, every Facebook like/share – it adds up. Since Hathor began, this is the first time ever the US has done something I want to push further. I’ll be doing my part.

  19. sbg says

    Jennifer Kesler,

    FWIW, I would bet cash money church affiliated hospitals have their own 501(c)(3) and it’s not the same as the church, church. They might still have breaks, but I don’t think they’d be the same breaks across the board; they’d be more like a regular non-profit, if they’re non-profit. ;)

  20. Dani says

    sbg:
    Jennifer Kesler,

    FWIW, I would bet cash money church affiliated hospitals have their own 501(c)(3) and it’s not the same as the church, church. They might still have breaks, but I don’t think they’d be the same breaks across the board; they’d be more like a regular non-profit, if they’re non-profit.

    Ooooh, that’s good.

    Jennifer, I read the Catholic Bishops Group article, and that is just disgusting (it’s especially vomit-inducing because I bet that these guys know that claiming religious authority for outright lies seems to make people easier to manipulate). I’m going to look out for people pulling that same crap now that this news broke.

    You’re statement about being involved as opposed to simply just voting for someone is refreshing. Usually, I hear that all I can do is “make my voice heard by my vote,” but there always seems to be something missing from that, especially if I can’t find a candidate I can vote for in good conscience.

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