See all our coverage of the Birth Control Mandate 2011 here.
Today, a coalition of more than 20 organizations representing millions of Latinos sent a letter to President Obama urging him to support and maintain the recent Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decision requiring health plans to cover preventive health care for women with no co-pays, including cancer screenings, immunizations, and birth control. Recent reports have indicated that the White House, under mounting pressure from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and other far-right religious groups, may be considering an unacceptably broad exemption that would leave millions of women without insurance coverage for contraception.
As national leaders in the movement for Latino rights and equality, we support full reproductive rights, including access to birth control for all women, and reject efforts that put the preferences of insurance companies and employers over the rights of women to make their own contraceptive health decisions in consultation with their doctors. We urge you to stand by your own administration’s decision to issue new standards requiring all insurers to cover contraceptives without a deductible or a co-payment. As you know these new rules already exempt churches and religious institutions from having to provide contraceptive coverage without cost-sharing for their employees.
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HHS issued the standard earlier this year after the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended birth control be covered as a women’s preventive service and therefore covered with no co-pays under the new Affordable Care Act. The IOM report was widely celebrated by advocates for Latina women and the promise of affordable and accessible reproductive health care.
“The HHS decision to cover birth control without co-pay as preventive health care is one of the most popular provisions of the new Affordable Care Act,” said Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas, executive director of NLIRH. “As we talk with Latina women around the country, they are overwhelmingly in support of the provision, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum.”
“The Department of Health and Human Services’ decision to require health plans to cover birth control without cost-sharing is [also[ one of the greatest advancements for women’s health in decades,” said the letter to Obama.
Unfortunately, some organizations and lawmakers are calling for an unfair expansion of the religious exemption—such as an exemption for religious hospitals and universities that serve and employ people of diverse faiths. Taking away this benefit from millions of women and their families has no basis in the law, is bad health policy, and is contrary to overwhelming public opinion.
Birth control use is nearly universal in the United States: 98 percent of sexually-experienced women will have used birth control at some point in their lives, including Catholic women. Latinas, including Catholic Latinas, resoundingly support the women’s preventive coverage benefit. In fact, 89 percent of Latina voters ages 18 to 34 support the requirement that health plans cover birth control at no cost.
And cost is indeed a critical factor in access to contraception for millions of women. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 50 percent of women ages 18 to 34, including Latinas, say there has been a time when cost of prescription birth control interfered with their ability to use it consistently. Cost barriers to birth control therefore contribute to unintended pregnancies and to abortions.
“Beliefs about prescription contraceptives are personal ones,” wrote the coalition.
It is unthinkable that a woman could be cut off from her ability to access legitimate medical and professional services solely because of the religious beliefs of her institutional employer. Millions of workers and their families would lose benefits if the refusal provision is expanded. For example, an expansion could impact nearly one million people (and their dependents) who work at Catholic hospitals, as well as approximately 2 million students and workers at religiously-affiliated universities. That’s millions of American workers who would lose a benefit that finally makes an essential health care service affordable.
“For a lot of Latina women and their families, this would be a devastating blow to their well-being,” said Lillian Rodríguez López, President of the Hispanic Federation. “Birth control can sometimes cost hundreds of dollars. The HHS decision frees up that money so women can afford to put food on their families table, pay for gas to get to work or pay for school tuition.”
“We urge you stand by your policy on birth control coverage and continue to follow the recommendation of the respected, non-partisan Institute of Medicine,” the coalition letter concluded. “Preventive care for all women produces better health outcomes for all and reflects the fundamental belief that access to quality health care is a human right.”
These groups urge you to take action:
Follow Jodi Jacobson on Twitter: @jljacobson