Women No Longer Pay More For Health Care Just For Being Women

Birth control and preventative care aren't considered luxuries.
SAUL LOEB via Getty Images

This piece is part of a series on Obama’s legacy that The Huffington Post will be publishing over the next week.

WASHINGTON ― Before President Barack Obama took office, being a woman came with a surcharge.

Most women had to pay out of pocket for birth control, even though preventing pregnancy saves money for everyone ― including insurance companies, men and the federal government. And women were charged more than men for the same health insurance plans because they tend to have babies, visit the doctor more often and live longer.

The Obama administration was the first to treat women’s preventative health care, including birth control, as a necessity instead of a luxury. The Affordable Care Act banned insurance companies from the practice of “gender rating” and required all insurance plans to cover the full range of contraception methods and well-woman visits, without a co-pay.

“It has really revolutionized how the health care system deals with reproductive health care, particularly family planning,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, told The Huffington Post. “Women now expect that birth control is a part of regular health care. We had to fight to get that done, but it’s been a sea change.”

Obama’s signature health care law saved women $1.4 billion on birth control pills alone in 2013, the year after it went into effect. More than 55 million women now get their contraception and well-woman visits for free, and unintended pregnancy in the United States is at a 30-year low. But those benefits may be short-lived, as Republicans are threatening to repeal Obamacare once President-elect Donald Trump takes office. Richards said Planned Parenthood had a “flood of women” calling in the days after Trump was elected, trying to get intrauterine devices and other long-term forms of birth control while their insurance is still required to cover them.

“We had historic numbers of people calling, because women understood this is a benefit they got under Obama that’s now at risk,” Richards said.

Even if they decide to keep some aspects of Obamacare, the incoming Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress will probably not be friendly to the birth control access provisions. Republicans see the birth control coverage rule as an affront to religious freedom, arguing that employers who morally oppose birth control shouldn’t have to provide it in their health plans. And Trump’s pick for Health and Human Services secretary, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), said in 2012 that birth control does not need to be covered because women have never had trouble paying for it.

“Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one,” Price said at the time. “The fact of the matter is this is a trampling on religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”

“It’s a real risk for this new administration to try to take women back to the 1950s ― particularly young women who have grown up under this administration.”

- Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood

Republicans have also repeatedly tried to defund Planned Parenthood, the largest family planning provider in the country, because of some of its clinics provide abortions. Planned Parenthood receives about $70 million a year in Title X federal family planning funds to provide birth control, cancer screenings and sexually transmitted infection testing to low-income patients. But nearly half the states in the country have attempted to withhold money from Planned Parenthood, and Republicans in Congress plan to spend $1.6 million in taxpayer dollars this year to investigate the family planning provider.

Senate Democrats are prepared to battle for Planned Parenthood funding and the birth control benefit under the new administration.

“It would be truly appalling and a grave mistake for Republicans in Congress and the incoming administration to attempt to force women to pay more for the preventative health care they need,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “If they do try, they should know that I, together with millions of women across the country, will be ready to fight back as hard as we can against any attempt to roll back women’s health care and to protect the progress we’ve made.”

The Obama administration issued a rule in December that prevents states from defunding Planned Parenthood for political reasons. But that rule probably won’t last under Trump.

Still, Republicans may find that it’s much more difficult to take away access to preventative care now that women have now come to expect it. Even if they repeal Obamacare, defund Planned Parenthood, eliminate birth control coverage and roll back abortion rights, Obama has already shown women what equitable health care feels like and has motivated a new generation of women to fight for it.

“It’s a real risk for this new administration to try to take women back to the 1950s ― particularly young women who have grown up under this administration,” Richards said. “It’s like lighting a match and dropping it on dry tinder.”

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