With growing chaos in Washington, D.C., and the fact that Connecticut has two strong pro-women’s health U.S. Senators, you might feel comfortable believing our state would be an oasis for reproductive health care. However, here is a reality check: your access to no-cost birth control is very much at risk.
Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Tom Price and the Trump Administration have lots of power to interpret and shape the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – which is still the law of the land. Regardless of what happens in Congress in coming weeks, there’s a long list of actions HHS can take without relying on the House or Senate. Under the ACA, all health plans are required to cover 10 essential preventive health benefits without copayments.
The scaling back of those benefits is one place Secretary Price is likely to zero in. While these benefits can’t entirely be eliminated without a vote of Congress, they can be adjusted and weakened by HHS. So, regardless of whether the Affordable Care Act stays or goes, preventive services are at risk.
In an interview with ThinkProgress in 2012, then-Representative Price said, referring to plans that lack birth control coverage, “Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one…The fact of the matter is this is a trampling of religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”
Just so we’re clear, Price would rather make women pay out of pocket for contraceptives than support contraceptive coverage. Connecticut rejected this gender-based discrimination back in 1999 when the General Assembly required plans to cover prescription birth control if they covered other prescriptions. The ACA went a step further requiring coverage of birth control and related health services, without copays.
Connecticut has the opportunity, before June 7, to protect access to preventive reproductive health care in the face of these attacks. With barely two weeks left in the legislative session, the General Assembly should pass Senate Bill 586, An Act Expanding Health Benefits for Women, Children and Adolescents.
This bill will neither create any new coverage nor will it cost carriers or the state more money. It will simply put into our state law the existing ACA language requiring no copay preventive benefits, such as annual well-woman exams, a range of pediatric screenings and immunizations, and services for pregnant women, including breastfeeding support. It would also require coverage and counseling for all FDA approved contraceptive methods, including sterilization procedures. Additionally, screenings for reproductive cancers, sexually transmitted diseases, and counseling services for domestic violence would be covered at no cost.
Many have already spoken in favor of this bill during the current session. Shockingly, the clock could actually run out before this bill gets a vote in both the state Senate and House. Without action, it is possible women in Connecticut could be forced to return to the days of “tiered” pharmacy benefits for birth control. This means coverage would first be limited to less effective methods of contraception, like pills, rather than more effective methods, like IUDs.
If you have a personal story about how birth control access made a difference to you, share it! Tell your state legislator why you support SB 586. If you need help, the CT General Assembly website can help you identify your state representative and senator. Call them, Tweet, post on Facebook – let your voice be heard!
Susan Lloyd Yolen is Vice President, Public Policy & Advocacy of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.