Congressional Republicans are not known for supporting efforts to expand access to birth control, but last week they introduced a bill that they claim would do just that. But the fine print reveals a totally different reality: by sidestepping Obamacare’s contraception coverage, the Republican plan would force American women to foot the bill for a $483 million tax on birth control.
The legislation, introduced by Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), aims to encourage pharmaceutical manufacturers to take the necessary steps to make birth control available over-the-counter. According to Gardner’s website, the proposed Allowing Greater Access to Safe and Effective Contraception Act would waive the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) filing fee and expedite the application review process to encourage manufacturers of “routine-use contraceptives” to apply to the FDA for over-the-counter (OTC) status.
“It’s time to allow women the ability to make their own decisions about safe, effective, and long-established methods of contraception,” Gardner said in a statement. “Most other drugs with such a long history of safe and routine use are available for purchase over the counter, and contraception should join them.”
But far from expanding access, the proposed bill would actually force women to pay hundreds of dollars more out of pocket by undermining the Affordable Care Act’s birth control provision. Under Obamacare, most employers are required to cover the full range of contraception at no cost to women. Republicans have long opposed and even pledged to repeal that rule because they claim it violates the religious freedom rights of employers who are morally opposed to birth control.
The mandatory contraception coverage under Obamacare applies only to birth control that requires a prescription. So if this bill resulted in various forms of routine-use contraception being sold over the counter, they would not have to be covered by insurance. In that case, birth control would become unaffordable for millions of women, with costs reaching up to $600 a year for many routine-use contraceptives. On a broader scale, the figures are staggering: American women would pay $483 million more per year on birth control that would otherwise have been covered at no cost by the Affordable Care Act.
“This bill is a sham and an insult to women. It would give women fewer birth control options and force women to pay twice for their birth control,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
“Planned Parenthood supports expanding access to birth control, which means making it available over-the-counter and also requiring it to be covered by insurance, so that it is affordable for all women,” said Richards. “The politicians who introduced this sham bill have repeatedly voted to take away insurance coverage and deny women access to birth control. They aren’t interested in expanding women’s access to birth control, and their bill would actually restrict women’s choices and cost women more money.”
Indeed, both of the bill’s co-sponsors have a troubled record when it comes to women’s health, with Gardner supporting extreme anti-choice fetal “personhood” legislation throughout his political career, and Ayotte issuing repeated votes to make it easier for employers to deny birth control coverage. Reproductive rights advocates have denounced the GOP’s sudden support for over-the-counter birth control as “an empty gesture” to appeal to female voters and deny that they are leading a ‘war on women.’
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, one of the nation’s leading medical associations, also came out strongly against the Republicans’ birth control bill, saying that it would undermine the gains of the Affordable Care Act.
“The Affordable Care Act removed many barriers to preventive care that keeps women healthy,” said ACOG President Mark S. DeFrancesco, M.D., in a statement. “By making contraceptives available to women without a co-pay, it has truly increased access to contraception, thereby decreasing unintended pregnancies, and allowing women to better plan their futures. Unfortunately, instead of improving access, this bill would actually make more women have to pay for their birth control, and for some women, the cost would be prohibitive.”
Research shows that high costs have forced many women to stop or delay using their preferred method of birth control, while others have chosen to depend on less effective methods that are the most affordable. Before Obamacare, more than half of young adult women reported that they sometimes did not use their method as directed because it was cost-prohibitive. Under the Republican’s proposed legislation, even more women could find themselves in that very position.