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.

News Media

Study: Politicians Dominate Nightly News Reports on Birth Control

Nicole Knight Shine

Study co-author Michelle H. Moniz, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan, noted that news segments largely framed contraception as a political issue, rather than a matter of public health.

When it comes to asking experts to weigh in on birth control, the nation’s three major TV networks favor political figures over doctors, according to a forthcoming paper in the journal Contraception.

Analyzing nightly news segments on contraception on ABC, CBS, and NBC between 2010 to 2014, the authors found that few broadcasts included medical professionals (11 percent) or health researchers (4 percent). Politicians, however, dominated coverage, appearing as sources 40 percent of the time, followed by advocates (25 percent), the general public (25 percent), and Catholic Church leaders (16 percent).

Sixty-nine percent of news segments on birth control included no medical information, the authors found.

Study co-author Michelle H. Moniz, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Michigan, noted that news segments largely framed contraception as a political issue, rather than a matter of public health.

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“Health professionals are an untapped resource for ensuring that the most up-to-date, scientific information is available to the public watching the news,” Moniz said in an email to Rewire.

An estimated 24 million Americans watch nightly news, making it an “influential information source,” the authors note.

And although nearly half of pregnancies in the United States each year are unplanned, news segments did not emphasize highly effective contraception like IUDs, the researchers found. Instead, emergency contraception, commonly known as the morning-after pill, warranted the most coverage, at 18 percent, followed by the daily oral contraceptive pill, at 16 percent.

The researchers’ analysis of 116 nightly news segments coincided with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act by President Obama and continued through the June 2014 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which carved out the right for private corporations to deny birth control coverage to employees on religious grounds.

“We found that when the network television media covers contraception,” the authors observed, “they do so within a largely political frame and emphasize the controversial aspects of contraception, while paying less attention to health aspects and content experts.”

The paper was authored by five researchers from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; the Veterans Affairs Center for Clinical Management and Research in Michigan; and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The study builds on earlier work exposing media bias and gender disparities in reproductive health coverage.

In June, an analysis of prime-time news programs on cable networks CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC by media watchdog group Media Matters for America found that 40 percent of guests on all three networks made anti-choice statements or identified as anti-choice, compared with 17 percent of guests who made pro-choice statements or identified as reproductive rights advocates. On Fox, guests made a total of 705 inaccurate statements about abortion care over a 14-month period.

The nightly news study follows a report earlier this year on gender disparities by the Women’s Media Center, a nonprofit advocacy group, indicating that male journalists dominate reproductive health coverage, with bylines on 67 percent of all presidential election stories related to abortion and contraception. Female journalists, in comparison, wrote 37 percent of articles about reproductive issues.

News Contraception

New Hawaii Law Requires Insurers to Cover a Year’s Supply of Birth Control

Nicole Knight Shine

Insurance companies typically cover only a 30-to-90-day supply of birth control, posing a logistical hurdle for individuals who may live miles away from the nearest pharmacy, and potentially causing some using oral contraceptives to skip pills.

Private and public health insurance must cover up to a year’s supply of birth control under a new Hawaii law that advocates called the nation’s “strongest.”

The measuresigned by state Gov. David Ige (D) on Tuesday, applies to all FDA-approved contraceptive medications and devices.

Hawaii joins Washington, D.C., which also requires public and private insurers to cover up to 12 months of birth control at a time.

Oregon passed a similar measure in 2015, but that law requires patients to obtain an initial three-month supply of contraception before individuals can receive the full 12-month supply—which the Hawaii policy does not.

“At a time when politicians nationwide are chipping away at reproductive health care access, Hawaii is bucking the trend and setting a confident example of what states can do to actually improve access,” Laurie Field, Hawaii legislative director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, said in a statement.

Insurance companies typically cover only a 30-to-90-day supply of birth control, posing a logistical hurdle for individuals who may live miles away from the nearest pharmacy, and potentially causing some using oral contraceptives to skip pills. Both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend supplying up to one year of oral contraceptives at a time, as the Hawaii Senate Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health noted in a 2016 conference report.

Fifty-sex percent of pregnancies in Hawaii are unintended, compared to the national average of 45 percent, according to figures from the Guttmacher Institute.

Women who received a year’s supply of birth control were about a third less likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy and were 46 percent less likely to have an abortion, compared to those receiving a one- or three-month supply, according to a 2011 study of 84,401 California women published in Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Reproductive rights advocates had championed the legislation, which was also backed by ACOG–Hawaii Section, the Hawaii Medical Association, and the Hawaii Public Health Association, among other medical groups.

“Everyone deserves affordable and accessible birth control that works for us, regardless of income or type of insurance,” Planned Parenthood’s Field said in her statement.