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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Playing Politics with Women's Health

Kate Blocher

Staff Writer

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, come August 1, 2012, many insurance plans will be required to cover contraception as part of women's preventive care - meaning no more co-pays or deductibles. This is welcome news to many women paying monthly co-pays for their contraceptives and especially for those on insurance plans that don't cover them at all. But more than that, it is good news for women's health because insurance companies must finally offer preventive care that benefits women both physically AND financially.

Unfortunately, not everyone sees it that way.

The Affordable Care Act rule exempts certain non-profit religious organizations that offer their employees insurance, such as churches and other houses of worship, from having insurance that covers contraceptives. Additionally, it has given other non-profit organizations, like religiously affiliated hospitals that employ or serve people regardless of their faith, an extra year to transition to the new law. Despite these exemptions and transition periods, there are also those falsely attacking the decision as a "war on religion."

But that's unfair. Many of these organizations have already found ways to provide employees with access to contraceptive care while still honoring their employees of faith. For example, DePaul University, the Nation's largest Catholic University, offers an optional insurance plan that covers contraceptives to both its students and employees.

The truth is, standing in the way of implementing this rule should be seen as a war on women's health.

Providing women with contraceptive services is just good medicine. According to a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, "Contraceptive use helps women avoid unintended pregnancy and improve birth spacing, which in turn have substantial positive consequences for infants, women, families and society." Women using contraception also reduce their risk of developing ovarian and endometrial cancers to about half the rate of the rest of the population. In addition to the health benefits, contraceptive use plays a role in improving the social and economic standing of women.

Despite the many health and economic benefits to contraceptive use, many women still face financial barriers in obtaining contraception. The Affordable Care Act changes that. By requiring most insurance companies to cover contraception without additional costs, millions of women will finally have access to preventive care that for too long has been financially out of reach.

This decision is a step forward for women's health, and if anyone says otherwise, it needs to be recognized for what it is - political game playing. Thank you Affordable Care Act for standing up for women's health!