Meanwhile, in the U.S. Government…

This is a guest post by Sam Shore. He graduated this year from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and is a member of the Illini Secular Student Alliance (ISSA).

A couple of heartening news stories got lost in the shuffle of Monday’s debt ceiling newstravaganza. At the federal level it seems that women who want access to basic reproductive health care have the upper hand on those who would seek to limit their options. In response to the results of a recent study, the Obama Administration announced a new regulation requiring that health insurance companies provide birth control to women with insurance without a copay. Another development, this time from the judicial branch, came midday Monday when a U.S. circuit judge granted an injunction against a Kansas law passed in June which effectively blocked Planned Parenthood locations in the state from getting government funding. 

Needless to say these federal actions have broad-reaching societal implications. Even from a purely economic standpoint, the United States stands to benefit from providing easier access to birth control. Research suggests that, “every $1 invested in public dollars for contraception saves $3.74 in Medicaid expenditures that otherwise would have been needed to provide pregnancy-related care (prenatal, labor, delivery and postpartum care) for women’s unintended births, as well as one year of medical care for their infants.” Considering this statistic and the dangerously ballooning costs of healthcare in the United States, it seems perfectly clear that investment in reproductive health should be part of our federal government’s portfolio. Removing barriers — even something as minimal as a $15 copay — could have a significant impact, as suggested by a recent study which highlights that lower-income California women were three times as likely to have a state-funded abortion when receiving recurring three-month supplies of birth control pills, rather than the one-year alternative. In short, broad and easy access to birth control lowers Medicaid expenditures to less than a third of original costs and lowers abortion rates by a third. I guess it’s true that good things come in threes… Or are, at least, three-adjacent.

Of course, these figures cannot fully convey the importance of women’s’ health programs to those who use them. Planned Parenthood’s services extend well beyond basic contraception and abortion; the organization provides comprehensive gynecological care to those in need. Thanks to the aforementioned regulation, “Insurers [will also now] be required to provide contraceptive services, breast-feeding support and supplies, domestic violence screening and counseling, regular ‘well woman’ visits, counseling about HIV and sexually transmitted infections, screening for gestational diabetes, and several other preventive services without charging women any copayments.”

In supporting programs like Planned Parenthood and an enforced no-copay policy for basic women’s health-related services, the federal government will be making an immeasurable difference in the lives of many. That’s why it’s of some comfort (to me at least) that, in the midst of one of the most blatant examples of unreason in our country’s history, we are working to ensure reasonable healthcare for women across the nation.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Anonymous

    Great news. But let us (unlike the original reporter) be clear. This regulation covers contraception, not all forms of birth control. Abortion is a form of birth control, and unfortunately, the regulation doesn’t cover it.

    Also, yay for the PP injunction. PP was completely defunded here by the Harper government without anyone even noticing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Stephan-Goodwin/676660806 Stephan Goodwin

    I wonder if anyone in the Pro-life crowd will ever admit that this act of providing free contraception may be one of the most effective actions taken by a President to stop abortions in the history of this nation…probably not.

    • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

      Your use of the word “free” in this situation saddens me.

    • A Thinker

      Please think rationally. This is not “free” by any means. There are many people who will be “paying” for this: not the least of which are the people who pay for insurance.

  • EcksLibris

    While I am heartened by the contraception regulation, unfortunately there are still exceptions for religious organizations. Although I myself am an atheist, I am on the staff at a Catholic University, and their policy is not to pay for contraception, so I’ll be continuing to pay out of pocket.

    • Mrs Atheist

      Health insurance costs for single men will go up
      Health insurance costs for men in relationships will go up
      Health insurance costs for single women will go up
      Health insurance costs for women in relationships will go up

      If the first two don’t happen then the gap between men’s and women’s health insurance will go up.

      This was a very sad legislation indeed.

      “”so I’ll be continuing to pay out of pocket.””
      As should everyone who is capable of affording it.

  • crowepps

    Everyone should be aware that while these regulations have been announced, they are not yet final.  PP informs me that “For the next 60 days, HHS is accepting public comments on its decision. They are also accepting comments on proposals to exempt certain religious employers, which could lead to some women losing access to this vital protection.”  The rightwing will be hitting their mailing lists to generate negative comments.  In order to provide balance, those who support the change should also send comments to HHS.  I cannot figure out how to do so through the HHS website, but comments can be sent through the PP action fund site here:
    http://www.plannedparenthoodaction.org/

  • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

    I’m all for contraception and insurance companies providing it without a copay, but this is just another regulation that will drive up the cost of health insurance as the list of items that insurance companies are mandated to cover grows. If we really want people to have affordable health insurance, this is a step in the wrong direction, not the right one.

    • http://twitter.com/FelyxLeiter Emily Joyce

      Contraception costs a whole lot less than a baby–long-term, this is going to SAVE money.

      • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

        Sure, it’ll save money for the people that don’t want to have babies.
        What about the people that don’t want contraception, but have to pay for
        it for other people because of this regulation? Will it save them
        money? No, it’ll just make their premium go up for optional care that
        they don’t want. What about strict Catholics that think that
        contraception is wrong? Now they’re forced to pay for it even though
        they don’t use it and don’t condone others using it. And in turn,
        premiums go up across the board and health insurance becomes less
        affordable for everyone.

        Maybe it will save a majority of people money (after all, most sexually
        active people use at least one form of birth control unless they’re
        trying to have a baby), but is it the government’s place to exert their
        will on a private entity and force them to extract money from a minority
        to benefit a majority?

        Like I said, I’m all for insurance companies offering this. My issue is
        with the government MAKING them. It leads to less choice in the health
        insurance market. If you’re a single male, for example, why should you
        pay a premium for birth control? Wouldn’t you be better off, in that
        situation, to do business with a company that doesn’t offer that as part
        of their standard package?

        What I’d like to know is what the percentage of health insurance
        providers was pre-regulation that covered birth control without a
        co-pay. I can’t seem to find that statistic in any article on the
        subject.

        I guess I just don’t see a big deal with co-pays or additional but
        optional insurance premiums for birth control. It gives the birth
        control to the people who want and are willing to pay for it without
        taking money from the people who wouldn’t benefit from it. In the second
        case, the price will go down to meet demand as people shop around for
        the cheapest birth control provider. (Or at least, it would in a free
        market health care system…something we haven’t had for several decades
        now.)

      • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

        Sure, it’ll save money for the people that don’t want to have babies.
        What about the people that don’t want contraception, but have to pay for
        it for other people because of this regulation? Will it save them
        money? No, it’ll just make their premium go up for optional care that
        they don’t want. What about strict Catholics that think that
        contraception is wrong? Now they’re forced to pay for it even though
        they don’t use it and don’t condone others using it. And in turn,
        premiums go up across the board and health insurance becomes less
        affordable for everyone.

        Maybe it will save a majority of people money (after all, most sexually
        active people use at least one form of birth control unless they’re
        trying to have a baby), but is it the government’s place to exert their
        will on a private entity and force them to extract money from a minority
        to benefit a majority?

        Like I said, I’m all for insurance companies offering this. My issue is
        with the government MAKING them. It leads to less choice in the health
        insurance market. If you’re a single male, for example, why should you
        pay a premium for birth control? Wouldn’t you be better off, in that
        situation, to do business with a company that doesn’t offer that as part
        of their standard package?

        What I’d like to know is what the percentage of health insurance
        providers was pre-regulation that covered birth control without a
        co-pay. I can’t seem to find that statistic in any article on the
        subject.

        I guess I just don’t see a big deal with co-pays or additional but
        optional insurance premiums for birth control. It gives the birth
        control to the people who want and are willing to pay for it without
        taking money from the people who wouldn’t benefit from it. In the second
        case, the price will go down to meet demand as people shop around for
        the cheapest birth control provider. (Or at least, it would in a free
        market health care system…something we haven’t had for several decades
        now.)

        • Martha

          It’s not so simple.  Men, and women who chose not to have children can very well end up paying through their premiums the medical costs of those who do have children.  We don’t charge people more who become pregnant and as a result have higher medical costs.  

          I like the idea of no copay for birth control for two reasons.  One, if there are fewer babies heath care costs could go down, including costs from fewer abortions.  Two, our world population is too high and we should encourage people to have fewer kids.  

          • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

            Your first point is quite valid. That may be an argument in favor of offering copay-free contraceptive care. (Then again, I have a gut feeling that the number of potential consumers that are morally opposed to having children is smaller than the number of potential customers that are morally opposed to contraception.)

            The second part is exactly the sort of paternalistic attitude that I’m against, however. It’s not up to Mommy and Daddy State to determine whether or not health care costs will rise or fall as a result of offering birth control without copay. If you really think that no accountant on the insurance company payrolls has looked at the cost/benefit, I’m not sure you know how business works. Secondly, the attitude of “we need to have less babies, so the government should step in” is a dangerously slippery slope. How long until that rationale goes to the logical conclusion of China’s one-child policy?

          • Mrs Atheist

            “” we should encourage people to have fewer kids.  “”
            No, we should encourage people to *do what they choose to do*.

    • Agfldjgl

      At least someone here is rational when it comes to healthcare.
      It is unfortunate that many atheists are rational when it comes to the existence of god but have no sense when it comes to healthcare and money.

      • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

        It’s not just atheists…most people in general don’t understand economics. That’s both liberals and conservatives, by the way.

        • A Thinker

          My point was that here we pride ourselves on the ability to think in a reasoned way but some people (like this post’s author) don’t do it when it conflicts with their emotional desires or other biases.

  • Kelvin

    Women already pay more than men for
    insurance coverage,
    even those who never become pregnant, they might as well get something
    out of it. This is a step in the right direction. I want to point out that it covers all FDA approved
    contraceptive methods, not just bc pills. That means IUDs too, which cost more up front, but
    save money in the long-run.

    • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

      “Women already pay more than men for
      insurance coverage,
      even those who never become pregnant, they might as well get something
      out of it.”

      That gap will WIDEN because of this regulation, not shrink.

  • http://rerational.com rerational

    All use my wife and I as an example.  On our insurance we have a $25 co pay for a 3 month supply of birth control. 

    We recently had a planned pregnancy and the first ultrasound alone was billed at $1900.  Not to mention the thousands of dollars of other prenatal care and delivery that were incurred.

    To me, it just makes simple business sense for an insurance company to provide birth control without a co-pay. There’s a 19 year break even point on just that ultrasound alone.  My thoughts to why they wouldn’t must simply be not based on dollars and cents and must be due to some other irrational argument. 

    • rerational

      Holy typo batman…meant to start that with “I’ll”

    • A Thinker

      Then let them make that decision on their own. No need for the government to force someone to give you free money (or free products).

    • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

      It doesn’t really make business sense, though. If you offer birth control coverage as part of your standard insurance plan, it makes the price of that standard plan go up unless you drop some other kind of coverage to balance it out. As the price increases, quantity demanded decreases (translation: less people will want your insurance because they can’t afford it now, or they can find it cheaper elsewhere and don’t care about birth control, etc.) Offering it as a copay or as an optional coverage plan makes much better business sense, because people who want it can get it, and people who don’t don’t have to pay for it.

      • Martha

        Not necessarily if the end result is less medical care because there are less pregnancies. 

        • http://www.stealingfirstbase.com Stealing First Base

          You don’t think any insurance companies have ever run that cost/benefit analysis? If it would make them more money than it would cost them, they’d have done it by now. In fact, like I said below, I’m willing to bet a lot already have, and I’d be interested in seeing the number that did pre-regulation.

  • Jshoop231

    I live in Kansas and heard about the law trying to outlaw abortion (in a roundabout way) and was infuriated. I completely missed the injunction! Thanks Hemant!


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