Contraception Equity on the State Level
By Shellie Ellis, MA
The push for contraceptive equity in health insurance plans is moving to the state level. In the last year, 35 states have introduced contraceptive coverage bills; eight states have enacted such legislation; and others are on their way to doing so. These bills require insurers offering prescription drug plans to cover prescription contraceptives. This trend is a vital step in increasing women's access to contraception. As many women's health advocates have noted, it is only fair to require companies that cover Viagra to cover prescription contraceptives.
In Maryland, Georgia, Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, Hawaii, and New Hampshire, governors have signed contraceptive coverage legislation into law. And other states are close behind.
In North Carolina, a new law is expected to take effect January 1. The North Carolina experience demonstrates some of the political pitfalls that even successful efforts to ensure 'Contraceptive equity face. Initially, the bill passed the Senate and was referred to the House Health Committee. While it was there, two amendments were added, weakening the bill's impact. First, the committee amended the bill to exempt health insurance plans offered through nonprofit religious groups. The second amendment exempted emergency contraception from coverage and includes language explaining that the bill does not mandate coverage for the abortifacient RU 486. Even these restrictive amendments were not enough to satisfy the anti-choice groups which continued to oppose the bill.
When the bill came up for a vote, anti-abortion rights groups bombarded all NC representatives with threats equating support for the bill with support of abortion (despite the bill's potential capability to diminish the need for abortion by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies). As a result, the bill was delayed for several months. It eventually passed the House, however, with the restrictive amendments. s of mid-June, it was expected o pass the Senate as amended and to take effect at the start of 2000.
There are more than three million unintended pregnancies each year in the United States, half of which are the result f contraceptive failure. Half of all pregnancies re unintended, and half of all omen aged 15 to 44 have had at least ne unintended pregnancy. Readily available contraception will contribute o women's safe reproductive health choices and could potentially reduce he rate of unintended pregnancy.
The Network supports contraceptive equity legislation, and we do not believe that emergency contraception should be excluded. (Emergency contraceptive ills, the most common form f emergency contraception, are regular birth control pills that can be used after sex to prevent pregnancy.)
As Network members, you can push for action in your state—and prepare to address potential efforts to weaken the ill, such as those in North Carolina. Contact our local representatives to see if contraceptive equity legislation has been offered in your state. If it has, find out the status of the bill and ask your representative o support it. If it has not, encourage our representative to introduce one.
Shellie Ellis is a Network Board member who lives and works in North Carolina.