Non-Coverage of Birth Control Pills Is an Issue Far Beyond Pregnancy Prevention

Oral contraceptives, birth control pills, are widely prescribed for women, but what many lay people may not know is that these medications are more often prescribed for the treatment of a number of women’s health issues more often than they are prescribed as a means of preventing pregnancy. Even so, if the rumors about the secretive American Health Care Act currently in the hands of the Senate are true, oral contraceptives would no longer be mandated for coverage under employers’ health care plans for any reason.

Oral contraceptives, a combination of the hormones estrogen and progestin, are the first line of treatment in polycystic ovarian syndrome, commonly referred to as PCOS, and are also used in the treatment of endometriosis, migraines, cystic acne, some abnormalities of the uterus and in women with a history of ectopic pregnancies.

About five million women of child-bearing age have PCOS; another five million women live with endometriosis. Both of these are health issues that impact the quality of life for those who have them in addition to the physical symptoms that go along with the illnesses. Migraine headaches affect nearly 30 million people in the U.S., with three-fourths of those diagnosed being women. Although the exact number of women whose migraine headaches related to their menstrual cycle is unknown, these are people too for whom oral contraceptives are often prescribed to ward off the debilitating effects that are well known to those with migraine headaches.

Can it be possible that employer-provided health insurance benefits may soon have the option to not cover medication used in the treatment of genuine medical conditions? It looks to be a likely scenario if Congress passes the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) replacement as it currently stands and is understood. Legislators are willing to throw away the baby with the bath water, so to speak, to ensure women for who oral contraceptives are used to prevent pregnancy won’t have access to the medication without paying out-of-pocket for it.

Imagine if elected officials developed a moral argument around one of the medications you need daily for a medical condition: Blood pressure medication or insulin or any one of a multitude of medications might be on the chopping block, requiring you to pay out-of-pocket for that which you need for your best health. Imagine your indignation and outrage if such a thing happened; now imagine what it must feel like to the women, the individuals –the human beings – who will essentially be told that their health and their concerns don’t count – because that is exactly what non-coverage of a prescription drug says to the people involved.

Like so many issues confronting the United States at this time, non-coverage of a medication prescribed by a health care professional for the treatment of a diagnosed medical condition such as endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome, will most greatly affect those women of low income.

While it’s true that oral contraceptives are relatively inexpensive compared to many other prescription drugs, even a monthly out-of-pocket cost of $20 can mean choosing to pay for a tank full of gasoline to get to and from a minimum wage job or buying a medication that will alleviate your symptoms and treat the underlying cause. The price of an oral contraceptive can be as high as $50 per month, the actual cost of which can be much higher, such as a week’s worth of groceries left un-purchased or a utility bill unpaid.

Even leaving the birth control choice out of the conversation as to whether oral contraceptives should be mandated for health insurance coverage, it seems unreasonable and inhumane that millions of women may have to incur extra monthly expenses for their daily medication needs because a small group of elected officials feel it is their right to legislate morality, failing to note – or choosing to ignore – the multiple women’s health conditions that may go untreated due to their cavalier decision-making.


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