2018-03-15 / Front Page

Proposed Birth Control Bills Protect Women

By Jocelyn O’Neil

Two Rhode Island representatives are standing up for a woman’s access to reproductive health care, in the wake of the current administration’s steps to undo the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

State Senator Dawn Euer-D District 13 (Newport, Jamestown) and State Representative Katherine Kazarian-D District 63 (East Providence) have proposed matching bills that would allow healthcare providers to prescribe birth control up to a year at a time and would preserve the $0 cost-sharing that the ACA provides.

The proposed bills (H7625 and S2529) would protect access to birth control on a state level, no matter what were to happen on the federal level.

One of the reasons Euer proposed the bill in her district was to make the lives of “busy moms” easier.

“Birth control is something that is very time sensitive,” said Euer. “There are not many other prescriptions that are as time sensitive as birth control, so this is a way to make the lives of working moms a little easier.

“This bill will help busy moms in the sense that they will be able to get a year’s worth of birth control at once, instead of having to repeatedly go back to the pharmacy month after month, which takes time out of their lives and could result in an unintended pregnancy because of delays,” she said.

Access to birth control medication can be the hinge upon which a young woman’s life might hang.

Jenna Wells was working as a creative manager for a start-up in Newport in 2010. The job did not offer full health insurance, so when Wells applied for insurance and qualified under the ACA, she was relieved.

That was until she went to the pharmacy to pick up her birth control pills.

“For some reason my information was not fully transferred over when I switched doctors, so as far as the pharmacist could tell me, I had to pay out of pocket for my prescription,” said Wells.

“It was around $70 for one month of pills, which frankly I couldn’t afford. I was working at a start-up, so that should tell you how broke I was,” she said.

Wells was forced to leave the pharmacy without her prescription. Thankfully, she said, she had a doctor who was understanding and helped her in her time of need.

“And then, my amazing doctor… said, ‘that's unacceptable’ and she hooked me up with a year’s supply of ‘sample packs’ so I didn't have to worry about the copay.

“It was a relief to get those sample packs, but if it wasn't for that, I wouldn't have had my birth control.”

Wells, who suffers from migraines and other hormonal symptoms, also benefits from the birth control pill as a medication.

According to the Rhode Island Coalition for Reproductive Freedom (RICRF), adolescent girls and young women are often prescribed birth control pills for reasons other than pregnancy prevention.

Some health conditions that benefit from hormonal birth control pills are irregular or absent menstrual periods, menstrual cramps, acne, PMS, endometriosis, Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Girls who are diagnosed with PCOS are often prescribed oral contraceptives to lower their hormone levels and regulate their menstrual periods.

The proposed bills would cover all FDA-approved prescription birth control methods, including barrier methods like diaphragms and sponges; hormonal methods, like birth control pills and vaginal rings; implanted devices, like intrauterine devices (IUDs); emergency contraception, like Plan B; and sterilization procedures as well as patient education and counseling.

The more expensive long-acting reversible methods of contraception, such as the IUD or implant, can cost up to $1,000 in out-of-pocket expenses for those without coverage.

On March 20, 2018, Euer and other supporters will testify at a hearing of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, in favor of her proposed bill.

The ACA requirement that birth control pills and other contraceptives be covered by insurance as part of preventive health care was dismantled in October 2017 by the US Department of Health and Human Services. Employers can now deny coverage for birth control to their employees on the grounds of religious or moral beliefs.

Massachusetts passed similar legislation to Euer’s and Kazarian’s proposed legislation, last November; however, on Monday, March 12, a federal judge rejected a lawsuit by the Massachusetts attorney general challenging the new rules by the Trump administration that make it easier for employers to avoid providing insurance that covers women’s birth control.

Euer is making access to reproductive health care one of her “top priorities” for women in Rhode Island.

“Nine in ten women are going to use birth control at some point in their lives,” she said. “It is a proactive measure for woman’s healthcare. It just makes sense.”

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