by Birthright: A War Story | 3.27.18
BOSTON -- The Massachusetts House on Wednesday passed a bill that would guarantee Massachusetts women access to birth control without a co-pay, even if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.
"Obviously, we're not sure what Congress is going to do from day to day, bad enough from week to week or month to month," said House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop. "It's important that we take it up here in Massachusetts and we send a message to Massachusetts in terms of protecting, in this case, women."
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The House voted 140-16 in favor of the bill, H.4009. It will now go to the Senate, which is expected to be supportive. Gov. Charlie Baker has also voiced support for the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, the bill's Senate sponsor, said the Senate plans to take up the bill on Tuesday.
There were no amendments made in the House, and Chandler anticipates no amendments will be made in the Senate. That would allow the bill to go straight to Baker's desk. The final bill was a compromise between insurers and reproductive health advocates.
Chandler said the national climate made it more urgent. "I think the times pushed us over the edge," Chandler said. "The administration in Washington has seen fit to make some changes in how they handle contraceptives. As result, there seemed to be the need to act on the part of the state of Massachusetts for women who look upon this for their health care."
In general, the bill codifies the provisions of the Affordable Care Act requiring insurers to cover birth control without cost-sharing.
The bill requires insurers to cover at least one version of every type of FDA-approved birth control -- so for example, an insurer can charge a co-pay for a brand-name drug if there is a generic equivalent that has no co-pay. If a patient's doctor specifies that the patient must get a particular type of birth control, the insurer would have to cover that without a co-pay. This includes pills, devices, emergency contraception and female sterilization procedures.
One way in which the bill goes further than the Affordable Care Act is it requires insurers to let women get a 12-month supply of prescription birth control pills after a three-month trial period. Currently, insurers often only cover one or three months at a time.
"For someone who's on a stable medication, who's been on birth control pills for years, having to go every month or every three months to get a refill is a real barrier for a lot of folks, especially for medication like birth control that really depends on timeliness and accuracy of taking the medication," said Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president of Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts.
The bill does not cover male contraceptives.
Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, D-Boston, House chairman of the Committee on Financial Services, which considered the bill, said the bill is part of Massachusetts' long history of "standing up for equality especially when it comes to health care."
Michlewitz said it will particularly help low-income women who need access to birth control to limit unplanned pregnancies. He cited studies showing that access to contraceptives results in reduced maternal death rates and a general improvement in women's health and wellness.
"Women's right to contraceptive coverage should be absolute, unquestioned," Michlewitz said. "Women should be able to choose which method of birth control works for them without worrying about the financial impacts it has on their lives and families."
House sponsor and Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad, D-Somerset, said the bill basically codifies the Affordable Care Act. So if Congress changes or repeals the Affordable Care Act, Massachusetts women will continue to have these protections.
"We find that this is a family issue, that it becomes an economic issue," Haddad said. "When people are allowed to plan their families, it means that they're more (economically) stable."
Approximately 1.4 million women in Massachusetts have access to birth control without a co-pay due to the Affordable Care Act.
The Massachusetts bill would include a religious exemption for churches. It would not include a broader moral exemption that President Donald Trump's administration is considering nationally, which would allow any employer with a religious or moral objection to birth control to deny contraceptive coverage to employees.
Attorney General Maura Healey, who testified in favor of the bill, said in a statement, "With women's reproductive health care under attack by the Trump administration, we must do everything we can to protect the rights of women here in our state." Healey said contraception is "basic preventative medical care."
"Today the House took an important step towards ensuring that every woman in Massachusetts has affordable and reliable access to the birth control option that is best for her," Healey said.
This story was updated with comments from Chandler.
Written by Birthright: A War Story
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