The Supreme Court Takes Up Women’s Contraceptive Insurance Benefits

CPPP's Stacey Pogue

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday on a lawsuit involving women’s preventive health care benefits guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare).  At issue is whether for-profit employers can opt out of covering contraception in their health insurance plans  if the business owner has a religious objection to birth control.  The ACA requires most health insurance to cover a full range of cost-effective and proven preventive health care services, including but not limited to, contraception.  The ACA already exempts religious employers, like churches, from the contraception requirement.

Polling finds that a majority of Americans believe that employers should not be able to opt out including contraceptive benefits in health insurance plans.   Birth control is one of the most-used preventive health services among women.  Insurance coverage for it should be standard issue, just as recommended preventive care services for children and men are included in insurance plans.

Making sure all women have access to the tools they need to plan the timing and size of their families is a critical piece of the puzzle in building equal economic opportunity for Texans who aspire to overcome poverty, join the middle class, and enjoy prosperity.  Birth control is also critical for improving public health. Women’s preventive health care—including birth control—helps women stay healthy, have healthy pregnancies, and avoid unplanned pregnancy. Today, over half of Texas births are unplanned. When women lack the tools to plan and space their pregnancies, babies face higher risks of prematurity and low birth weight.

Despite popular misconceptions about the low cost of contraception, many women struggle to afford birth control. The most effective forms of birth control, like IUDs, have up-front costs of up to $1,000 and some birth control pills can cost $60 a month.  And even more affordable generic birth control pills require regular doctors’ office visits.  The cost of contraceptives prevents many women, especially low-income women, from using birth control consistently or choosing the best and most effective form of contraceptive for them.  The ACA’s guarantees that contraception: (1) will be covered by most health insurance, and (2) will not be subject to a copayment or a deductible, mean more women will have financial access to the tools needed to prevent unintended pregnancies and have healthier pregnancies.

The women’s preventive health care benefits under the ACA took effect in August 2012.  Since then more than 1.9 million (and counting) women in Texas have been guaranteed access to birth control coverage in their health insurance plan without an additional out-of-pocket expense.  This increased access to basic preventive health care supports women’s health, the health of babies, and family economic security.

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