Celebrating 10 years of ACA — helping protect women's reproductive health

Celebrating 10 years of ACA — helping protect women's reproductive health
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Recently it was announced that 12 states have established a special enrollment period to help address the immediate challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, other states will follow suit. This effort demonstrates the critical role that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) plays in meeting our community’s immediate health care needs. With regard to its long-term benefit, we need only look at the ACA’s critical role in helping to ensure access to key preventive services for women at no additional out-of-pocket cost, including the full contraceptive services and supplies. 

Over the past 10 years, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped to significantly improve the reproductive well-being of 61.4 million women across the nation by providing no co-pay coverage of vital preventive services, including contraception. Specifically, under the ACA, insurance companies must cover life-saving services such as mammograms, screenings for cervical cancer, HIV, and prenatal care, among other critical services.

Women with health insurance are more likely to access and use the most effective methods of contraception. Under the ACA, insurance plans are required to cover all forms of birth control approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a fundamental provision for women’s reproductive well-being. In addition, since the ACA took effect women have saved $1.4 billion on birth control pills annually, while other contraceptive methods also became more accessible with the elimination of prohibitive costs. 

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Despite the obvious health and affordability benefits of the ACA’s contraceptive coverage benefit, the Supreme Court will hear a case that might reverse this critical provision of the ACA. The case before the Court is Trump v. Pennsylvania, and at issue is whether any employer or insurance plan that wants to can be exempt from covering contraception.

It is worth noting a few key reasons why contraception without co-pays is not only important to women’s health but is also simple common sense. First, birth control is not controversial. According to data from Power to Decide, the majority of people in the United States across political party lines (76%) believe that birth control is a basic part of health care. Further, the majority of adults support policies that make it easier to access the full range of birth control methods. Data also show that nearly all women (99 percent) in the U.S. who have ever had sex with men have used a method of contraception at some point in their lives. Finally, contraception has also helped people across the country to decide if, when and what circumstances to get pregnant and have a child. By doing so, contraception helps people to achieve their educational and professional goals and establish the future they want for themselves on their own terms and timelines.

Despite the advances brought forth by the ACA’s contraceptive coverage provision, not everyone has the contraceptive access they need and deserve. Significant disparities persist and efforts to limit access to contraception have only served to exacerbate the lack of access for women of color, women with low incomes and women living in rural areas. More than 19 million U.S. women of reproductive age in need of publicly funded contraception live in contraceptive deserts or counties without reasonable access to a clinic offering the full range of contraceptive methods. 

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the ACA is for women of limited means. Through the ACA, millions of women have coverage without cost barriers to the birth control that best meets their needs, helping them stay healthy for themselves and their families. Coverage for affordable contraception, in particular, made a significant impact in women’s lives, while the health and societal benefits resulting from contraceptive use are well documented. Recent research confirms the significant connection between insurance coverage and women’s access to and use of contraception, and these results underscore yet another way in which the future of women’s health is tied to the ACA.    

Ginny Ehrlich is the CEO of Power to Decide, which is a private, non-profit organization that works to ensure all women have the power to decide if, when, and under what circumstances to get pregnant.