Senator seeks to increase access to the pill

Women may be able to obtain their birth control for free, if the government determines that birth control counts as preventative care for women.

Under an amendment to the health care reform bill authored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., women will be provided free access to preventative care – which could include prescription birth control – at no cost to patients.

A panel of experts will begin meeting this month to advise the Department of Health and Human Services on guidelines for preventative care, and HHS has until August 2011 to decide what counts as preventative medicine, according to the Associated Press.

“This amendment makes sure that the insurance companies must cover the basic preventive care that women need at no cost,” Mikulski said in a news release when the Senate approved Mikulski’s amendment in 2009. Mikulski did not return request for comment for this article.

While GW’s medical director for Student Health Services, Dr. Isabel Goldenberg, said SHS didn’t have statistics on how many students use birth control. Of the students who are prescribed birth control from SHS, she said most use oral contraceptives or Nuvaring. Nuvaring is an intravaginal form of birth control.

“The charge for contraceptives varies a lot according to the health insurance that the patient has,” Goldenberg said. “The students in the Student Health Plan have a co-payment of $25, $35 or $50 per prescription. Many oral contraceptives are generics, and will cost $25 [per] month.”

In response to a question about whether she thought the health care reform law would create more access to birth control, Goldenberg said she thought better access to birth control “will increase the numbers of women using it.”

Many female students seemed excited at the possibility of free birth control.

“I mean, it’s free birth control,” said first-year graduate student Allie Abetti. Currently Abetti pays $5 for her prescription of generic birth control.

Some students paid much more for the pill, and said receiving it for free would be a welcome addition.

“That’d be fantastic,” said junior Amy McDonald of the potential for free birth control. “I pay $96 [per month] for Loestrin [24],” she said. Loestrin 24 is not a generic form of birth control and can be more expensive than generics depending on one’s insurance plan.

Some groups have spoken out against making birth control part of preventative care, however.

Fr. Greg Shaffer, the chaplain of the GW Newman Center, said the Catholic center echoes a Sept. 17 statement from U.S. bishops “that birth control should not be mandated as ‘preventive services’ in the Healthcare Reform Law,” he said Wednesday.

Shaffer told The Hatchet that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote in a letter to HHS that the department “should not require coverage of contraception or sterilization in a group or individual health plans as part of ‘preventive services.'”

Deirdre McQuabe, assistant director for Policy and Communications at the USCCB, said pregnancy is not a disease.

“People think that if women are given greater access to birth control abortion and pregnancy rates will go down, but people are more inclined to be more sexually active, which is more likely to increase the rates of pregnancies and abortions,” she said, adding that this could also lead to more sexually transmitted diseases.

Goldenberg that SHS doesn’t dispense any medication for free and she didn’t know if birth control would be dispensed for free at pharmacies if it becomes part of preventative care.

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