Democrats Stall on Birth Control Coverage for Women

Alexa Stanard

What would "President McCain" say? In Michigan, women who need contraception aren't covered under their health insurance while men can pick up Viagra for free.

Michigan women with health insurance can find themselves paying up to $65 a month for a prescription to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Meanwhile, their insured male counterparts can pick up a free prescription for Viagra.

Michigan is one of 23 states that doesn’t require insurance companies to cover birth control pills. However, Viagra and other impotence medications are covered widely. In August 2006, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission issued a nonbinding ruling that failure to cover contraceptives in the same way as other prescriptions constitutes sex discrimination.

"Women spend about 68 percent more on health care each year than men do," said Lori Lamerand, board chair of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. "In general we women spend way more out of pocket on our health care than men will ever be asked to do. This is the most dramatic example of inequity."

In February 2007, state Rep. Steve Bieda, D-Warren, introduced House Bill 4295 to require insurance companies to cover all contraceptives approved by the U.S. Food and Drug and Administration. The bill has languished since in the Health Policy Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Kathy Angerer, an anti-choice Democrat from Monroe.

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Angerer did not return a call seeking comment.

"We don’t have what we think of as enlightened folks on the pregnancy prevention front right now sitting in Lansing," Lamerand said. "On one level we’re glad we have a Democratic majority, but we don’t have a pro-family planning policy."

The issue of contraceptive coverage made news recently just after Sen. John McCain visited Michigan. On his campaign bus a reporter asked whether he thought it was fair that insurance companies cover Viagra but not birth control.

McCain responded with a long, awkward silence before saying it was an issue he hadn’t "thought much about" and that he didn’t know enough to give the reporter an "informed response." However in 2003, McCain voted against the Murray Amendment, which would have improved the availability of contraceptives for women and required insurance coverage of prescription birth control.

"I think he was simply really unprepared," Lamerand said of McCain’s response. "He’s not a supporter of women’s health or contraception. And that should worry us."

There is no federal law requiring insurance companies to cover birth control. McCain’s home state of Arizona is one of 27 states that do so.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on sexual and reproductive health research, 98 percent of sexually active women used at least one method of birth control in 2002.

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