November 1, 2010

Health Care Reform Could Lead To Free Birth Control

The Obama administration's health care reform legislation includes a guarantee of access to free preventative medicine for women, but according to a Sunday article by Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Associated Press (AP), that promise has sparked a debate as to whether or not birth control should be provided at no cost under the new law.

According to Alonso-Zaldivar, a panel of experts is set to meet later this month to discuss just that issue, but it hasn't stopped both proponents and opponents from weighing in on the issue.

Dr. David Grimes, an instructor at the University of North Carolina and a family planning expert, told the AP reporter that there is "clear and incontrovertible evidence that family planning saves lives and improves health"¦ Contraception rivals immunization in dollars saved for every dollar invested. Spacing out children allows for optimal pregnancies and optimal child rearing. Contraception is a prototype of preventive medicine."

In contrast, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops argues that pregnancy is "a healthy condition, not an illness," according to Alonso-Zaldivar, and John Hass of the National Catholic Bioethics Center added that they "don't consider it to be health care, but a lifestyle choice"¦ We think there are other ways to avoid having children than by ingesting chemicals paid for by health insurance."

The author of the women's health amendment, Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski, "says the clear intent was to include family planning," the AP notes. Furthermore, the wire service says that "almost all" insurance plans in the U.S., including Medicare, currently cover birth control.

"So far, most other religious conservatives have stayed out of the debate, though that could change," says Alonso-Zaldivar. "Some say they are concerned about any requirement that might include the morning-after pill. The Food and Drug Administration classifies it as birth control; some religious conservatives see it as an abortion drug."

"How the Obama administration will apply the law remains to be seen," he concludes. "It could allow insurance plans wide discretion on meeting the coverage requirement. A panel convened by the Institute of Medicine will hold its first meeting Nov. 16 to begin work on recommendations to HHS. The department has until next August to make its decision."


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