Get your women’s health checkup today. It’s covered!

By Lois Uttley

Overdue on your mammogram or Pap smear? Trying to quit smoking or lose weight? Thinking about having a baby?

It’s National Women’s Health Week. What better time to make an appointment and get caught up on the health care you need!

Many women’s health services are now covered by our health insurance plans without extra charges, like co-pays and deductibles, because of the new health care law (the Affordable Care Act). Because we don’t have to dig into our pocketbooks for those extra charges, we can actually afford to take advantage of the health insurance coverage we have.  Examples of what’s now covered without co-pays include:

  • Cervical cancer screening for sexually active women;
  • Mammograms every 1 to 2 years for women over 40;
  • Help quitting smoking, especially if you are pregnant;
  • Cholesterol and blood pressure tests;
  • Folic acid supplements for women who want to become pregnant; and
  • Osteoporosis screening for at-risk women over 60.

There’s improved coverage for our children, as well, including no-copay coverage for immunizations against common childhood diseases, tests of hearing and vision and screening for possible autism. And, our adult children can stay on our family health insurance policies until age 26, so we don’t have to worry about them going without health insurance after graduating from high school or college. In fact, we think the coverage for moms and our kids if so great, we’re calling it MamaCare!

We will have even more great preventive care coverage starting August 1, when the women’s preventive services provision of the health care law takes effect. From then on, all new health insurance plans will be required to cover, without co-pays, these critically-important women’s health services:

  • Contraceptive services, including birth control pills, IUDs and even tubal ligations;
  • Breastfeeding counseling and rental of press pumps;
  • Screening for STIs, gestational diabetes and domestic violence; and
  • Annual well-woman visits, when you and your primary care provider can make a plan to keep you healthy.

At Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need, we’re counting down to this great new coverage that will benefit millions of women. Learn more about how you will benefit at our Countdown to Coverage website.

Lois Uttley, MPP, is co-founder of Raising Women’s Voices for the Health Care We Need, a national initiative working to make sure the Affordable Care Act meets the needs of women and our families.

The Other 99%: Will Obama Betray Them?

by Carole Joffe, University of California, RHRealityCheck

See all our coverage of the Birth Control Mandate 2011 here.

There is another 99 percent group in our country, distinct from but inextricably entwined with the now more familiar #99Percent, those everyday Americans, who–in such a brilliant framing by the Occupy Wall Street movement–are to varying degrees affected by the vast economic inequality that characterizes American society. I refer to the 99 percent of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse and have used a birth control method at least some of the time. (As per the original Centers for Disease Control report, this statistic only includes contraceptive use reported by women during heterosexual intercourse).

Contraception obviously is a deeply held value by American women. But the fact that in the United States a startling half of all pregnancies are unintended makes clear that birth control is used only sporadically by some. There are a number of reasons why this is so, but a chief one is that so many women cannot afford contraception, especially the most expensive—and most effective–methods, such as birth control pills, and long lasting reversible contraception, for example, the newer (and far safer) models of IUDs (intrauterine devices).  In short, the same economic disparities that pervade every other area of American life manifest here as well: poor women depend on publicly-funded programs for their contraceptive services, but, according to the Guttmacher Institute, only a little more than half of the 17 million women who need these services currently receive them.

This situation of tremendous inadequacy was supposed to improve considerably. In one of the best pieces of news in the otherwise embattled reproductive health world since the battles over health care reform began, the Obama administration announced last August that it would accept the recommendations of a special panel of the Institute of Medicine and include contraception—including all FDA-approved birth control methods—as part of the basic package of preventative health services that health insurance plans must offer, without co-payments.

Predictably, the August announcement has produced a massive campaign from opponents of contraception, especially the Catholic hierarchy. Though churches in fact have been granted an exemption from this requirement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its allies are pushing for much broader exemptions, for example  to universities, social service agencies and other institutions with a religious affiliation—even if these institutions receive public funding.  Such a move could potentially affect millions of women, of all religious backgrounds (or none), who work in such institutions.

My young friends who have been involved in the Occupy movement tell me that issues of reproductive justice have been muted, if evident at all, at the various Occupy sites. But as the occupiers put forward their vision of a just society, the old feminist dictum bears repeating: women cannot be full participants in any society unless they can control their fertility. The New York Times quotes the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reporting on a meeting with President Obama, as saying the latter “was very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community.”  President Obama, please be open as well to the tremendous struggles of women–members of both 99 Percent groups–who are desperate to control their childbearing in very harsh times.

 

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These groups urge you to take action:

Catholics for Choice

National Women’s Law Center

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

Feminist Majority Foundation

Emily’s List

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

NARAL Pro-Choice America

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

 

 

The Other 99%

by Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood Action Fund

There’s not a lot we agree on in this country. And yet, there is one topic around which there is practically universal agreement: the right of women to access birth control.

That’s right — 99% of women in the U.S. who have been sexually active have used birth control. It’s used by women of every demographic, every geographic location, every income level — and every religious group.

So does it sound crazy that a small group of religious leaders and tea-party Republicans are fighting to eliminate women’s access to birth control?

But that’s exactly what’s happening. Right now in Washington, D.C., a small but influential group is lobbying the White House to prevent millions of women in America from having equal access to birth control under insurance plans. It seems as though having one of the highest unintended pregnancy rates, not to mention the highest teen pregnancy rate, among the world’s most developed countries isn’t enough — we’ve got to make it even harder for women to access family planning.

The dangerous proposal put forth by this vocal minority tries to take advantage of an unfair exemption crafted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that allows certain religious employers to opt out of the new federal requirement that insurance plans include birth control and other preventive services with no co-pay.

But here’s the thing: The HHS definition of “a “religious employer” applies to nonprofit organizations that have instilling religious values as their purpose and whose employees and clients share their religious tenets. In other words, religious institutions such as churches are already exempted.

But these lobbyists are trying to expand this definition to include religiously affiliated colleges, universities, medical schools, hospitals, social service organizations, schools, you name it — so that these organizations will be able to refuse birth control coverage for their employees as well. This, despite the fact that these institutions in large part neither employ nor serve individuals who share their religious beliefs. In fact, they are open to and serve the public.

The result of such an expansion would be nothing short of tragic for millions of Americans and their families. Nearly 800,000 people work at Catholic hospitals and there are approximately two million students and workers at universities that have a religious affiliation. This expansion would impact all of these individuals — as well as their dependents, denying them a benefit that finally makes an essential health care service affordable.

An expanded refusal policy for any organization claiming to be “religious” would amount to the single most damaging refusal provision around birth control ever implemented. In fact, it would set a standard as bad as or even worse than the refusal provision that George W. Bush put into place near the end of his administration — and that President Obama sensibly and swiftly dismantled.

In essence, this harmful and illogical measure would undermine the very purposes of the Affordable Care Act — eliminating discrimination in health care coverage and making sure all Americans have insurance coverage that meets their basic, preventive health needs. In fact, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has declared that the exclusion of insurance coverage for prescription contraceptive drugs and devices in an employer health plan that covers prescription drugs is sex discrimination.

An expanded refusal policy not only undermines a fundamental tenet of the Affordable Care Act — that every person in this country deserves a basic standard of health care coverage — it could set a devastating precedent that goes way beyond reproductive health care. Down the line, it could open the door to refusals to provide or cover any service that might be deemed to violate religious beliefs — whether it be a blood transfusion, condoms to prevent HIV transmission, end-of-life care, mental health services, or mere information about health care options.

Just last week, the voters of Mississippi overwhelmingly rejected a proposed “personhood” amendment, in large part because it would have prevented women from being able to access birth control. The American people support birth control, and American women use it. The beauty of birth control is if you don’t want or need it, you don’t have to use it. That’s a decision women can make perfectly well on their own, without the interference of government or religion. And that’s something on which we should all be able to agree.

Cross posted from the Huffington Post