Today brings free contraception for all (as long as you’re one of the millions insured and you don’t work for a Catholic organization), under the Affordable Care Act. Effective today, these provisions cover most major preventive services without a co-pay.
According to data provided by Planned Parenthood, women spend nearly $600 annually on birth control. The organization says that 45 million women are already benefiting from the ACA and that these new provisions will provide 12.8 million women of reproductive age access to insurance coverage.
We spoke to Alice Berger, VP of Health Care Planning at Planned Parenthood NYC, to find out more about how these provisions will impact the women of New York City.
“This is the first time historically, in health insurance coverage, that women will receive preventive care without cost,” said Berger.
Berger also noted that in addition to eliminating the financial burden for women in paying for contraceptives, the mandate eliminates gender-based discrimination based on “pre-existing conditions” and creates gender equity in insurance premiums where traditionally women have paid higher rates than men.
In 2011 Planned Parenthood NYC provided service to 50,000 clients who made 85,000 total visits last year. More than half of those clients were women and 75 percent of them were under the age of 30. 67 percent of those who visited a Planned Parenthood clinic in the city were insured by Medicaid, received services at a reduced rate or for free.
“We see on a firsthand basis the tremendous hardship that women face in trying to pay for contraception, so this mandate under the Affordable Care Act is just terrific,” said Berger.
While women’s health advocates like Planned Parenthood are celebrating across the nation, religious organizations — spearheaded by the Catholic church — aren’t so happy.
As our own Victoria Bekiempis previously reported, the kerfuffle over contraceptive insurance coverage began back in January when President Obama sought to mandate that all employers cover this provision under their company health insurance — including those that have religious affiliations.
Conservatives quickly went on the defensive and claimed the mandate violated First Amendment rights as well as conscience clause laws, which first came to prominence following Roe v. Wade and allows pharmacists, physicians and other healthcare practitioners not to provide services that conflict with their religious or moral beliefs.
After going back to the drawing board, and sending Catholic VP Joe Biden to meet with the National Conference of Bishops, the administration reached a compromise.
The mandate now requires that all health insurance companies provide preventive services without cost, but includes an amendment that allows for religious organizations that provide health insurance to its employees to opt out of birth control coverage.
Much of the current controversy is over the government’s definition of a religious organization as one whose “purpose and character are primarily religious.” This characterization will allow entities such as the Catholic Church to remain exempt from providing contraceptive coverage but not religious affiliated groups like hospitals or universities, which will only have until 2013 to comply with the mandate. If they refuse to include contraception under employee health insurance coverage when they renew their annual policies, they will face fines of up to $100 a day per employee.
Though hard-line conservatives rejected this compromise immediately, key Catholic organizations applauded the President’s efforts including the Catholic Health Association led by Sister Carol Keehan, who was a critical ally for the administration’s health care reform back in 2009.
In recent months Keehan and other notable figures in the Catholic community have had a change of heart and are now openly criticizing the mandate and pursuing legal action, filed by 13 of the 200 dioceses in the US.
According to the Washington Post, Sister Keehan, and several other religious leaders, explained their repeal of support for the Obamacare measure in a five-page document to the Department of Health and Human Services.
“The more we learn, the more it appears that the … approaches for both insured and self-insured plans would be unduly cumbersome and would be unlikely to adequately meet the religious liberty concerns of all of our members and other Church ministries.”
The CHA is currently seeking to have the definition of a religious organization broadened to include groups that “share common religious bonds and convictions with a church”.
Similar suits have already been struck down in states across the country including Nebraska where a judge said that religious groups had failed to demonstrate how the mandate would cause them immediate harm.
It remains to be seen how or if this will affect Obama’s re-election in November.