These past couple weeks have been full of ups and downs in the world of women’s health and policy. Let’s review, shall we?
Let’s start with the ups!
The Institute of Medicine recommended to the Department of Health and Human Services that health insurance should add birth control to the list of preventative care services, allowing prescriptions and devices to be covered without co-payments. Such a move would increase access to contraceptive options, allowing each woman to choose the birth control that works best for her. Not only would this coverage be a huge step forward in the protection and promotion of woman’s rights, general well-being and healthy communities, but it would also end up saving insurers and health systems millions of dollars by preventing unintended pregnancies and their pricey consequences. In an amazingly happy, if surprising (given the current conservative-leaning political atmosphere) turn of events, the Department of Health and Human Services took the IOM’s suggestion and will be implementing this woman and family-friendly coverage starting next year!
Furthermore, the Access to Birth Control (ABC) Act was introduced in the House and Senate on July 26th, and if passed will ensure that every woman has access to birth control – regardless of her pharmacist’s opinion on the drugs. These bill introductions and policy changes are a huge and historic step forward for women’s health.
And now the downs ...
Despite this happy addition to the preventative services covered by insurance companies, the world of politics is currently an unhappy one. Congress has been spending most of its time raising the American public’s blood pressure with their back-and-forth squabbling and reluctance to compromise about whether to raise the national debt limit and how to go about settling on the details. Fiscal conservatives were adamant that the country should not be allowed to go any further into debt if we want to avoid defaulting, while liberal politicians countered that without some amount of spending we would be forced to cut deeply into the programs that serve our most vulnerable populations and whose operations have the largest long-term payoff (think: education, Medicaid and Medicare, funding for childcare, etc.).
In the end, the politicians came to a compromise – a document that left everyone feeling slighted. And the bottom line is – women and populations that rely on the federal government’s services are going to suffer.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, the new debt ceiling bill will cut more than $1 trillion over the next ten years to defense and non-defense spending, with a majority of the cuts occurring in “discretionary spending”. Discretionary spending refers to “programs that help women protect their health, obtain quality child care and higher education, and help them meet their basic needs during difficult times and as they age – including Head Start, child care, K-12 education, family planning and other women’s health services, domestic violence prevention, job training, Pell grants, and services for the elderly” (NWLC 8/1/11). If this legislation passes, (which is likely, as Congress is not eager to re-enter standstill negotiations) it will negatively impact our already weak economy, the effectiveness and reach of entitlement programs, and the Affordable Care Act – including the measure just passed to make contraception fully covered by insurance.
President Obama assures the public that he will only consider changes that are fair and “balanced”, but the bottom line is that this compromise does not bode well for middle and lower income Americans who rely on the federal government for support in pursuing education, job opportunities, food assistance, health coverage and childcare. Major downer, US Congress.
What do you think about the compromises we are making? Should vulnerable populations be used as a political bargaining tool? Can the fantastic step forward in birth control coverage override the tremendous cuts we are taking to social services? Is there a good solution to our nation’s debt problems? As American citizens who wish to advance women’s health and maintain our sense of empowerment, what can we do to protect ourselves and those we love?
Check out some of these sources for more information on the debt bill compromise and the new birth control coverage:
Edited by Jody Smith