In quick fashion, Kathleen Sibelius and the Department of Health and Human Services have seized the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) recommendations on preventative services and turned them into mandatory inclusions for all new Health Insurance plans starting August 1st, 2012. As part of the minimum package of co-pay free preventative services, birth control joins other medical services such as blood pressure and cholesterol tests, colonoscopies, and cancer screenings. Sibelius herself proclaimed, “Before today, guidelines regarding women’s health and preventive care did not exist. These recommendations are based on science and existing literature.”
While many within the community of OB-GYNs, public health officials, and women’s advocacy applauded Sibelius’ acceptance of the IOM recommendations, it was not delivered without opposition. Groups including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the Family Research Council (FRC) denounced Monday’s historical development; “Some people have moral or ethical objections to contraceptives. They should not be forced to violate their conscience by paying premiums to health plans that cover these items and services.” (Jeanne Monahan, FRC). However, a woman and her doctor should be able to decide the best methods of preventative care for her, not her employer or insurer. It is for this reason that the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health will be analyzing and commenting against the optional refusal amendment of providing contraception by religious employers, included in the HHS guidance.
Through the sprinkling of criticism that is bound to occur anytime a political victory is scored for women, one voice managed to sum up the importance of the IOM recommendations’ acceptance, “We are one step closer to saying goodbye to an era when simply being a woman is treated as a pre-existing condition,” Representative Barbara Mikulski said. “We are saying hello to an era where decisions about preventive care and screenings are made by a woman and her doctor, not by an insurance company.” Mikulski’s words are especially relevant, as it was her amendment to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that was the genesis of the IOM recommendations.
In our eyes here at the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, Monday was more than an economic victory for women, it was a victory in normalization. By putting accessibility to birth control on the same plain as getting your cholesterol checked, we have made a giant step towards universal acceptance of the unique health care needs of women, as well as women’s right to control her reproductive life. In an attempt to criticize the HHS ruling, Deirdre McQuade, a Spokeswoman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said, “Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed.” We at WAWH could not agree more. Where Ms. McQuade and we may not see eye-to-eye is on the fact that when nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended, and 40% of those are aborted, we have a problem with a clear and simple solution. Obtainable birth control is a simple, cost-effective, and evidence based step forward, that has the potential to change the fate of America and its families for the better.