Vriezen: New insurance requirements benefit women

Claire Vriezen

The Department of Health and Human Services has recently released new guidelines that describe a number of services soon to be offered by insurance companies without the added financial hassle of co-pays and deductibles. Beginning in August of this year, services such as yearly checkups, domestic violence screening, HPV testing, STI screening and, perhaps the most controversial, birth control all will be covered completely by insurance providers.

In addition to requiring insurance providers to cover the costs of these services, an amendment was also released that gives religious institutions that provide employees with insurance the choice to bypass this requirement. While purely religious institutions such as churches, mosques, synagogues and other places used for worship are exempt, the Obama administration has given religious-affiliated employers a year to follow the new requirements as outlined by the Department of Health and Human Services. Religious-affiliated employers include organizations such as church-affiliated hospitals, universities or social service groups.

This amendment has stirred up quite a bit of ire from many religious groups, upset that their hospitals, schools and organizations will be required to cover the entire cost of birth control for employees. They claim their religious freedoms are being violated, but this is not the case.

These groups fail to receive the same exemption as churches because of the secular nature of their organizations. Church-affiliated hospitals have a secular purpose β€” caring for the ill and preventing sickness. Religious universities have a secular goal of providing adults with a higher education. Groups dedicated to performing social services provide an ultimately secular task.

Because these groups are often only affiliated with a particular religion or denomination and perform underlying secular tasks, they will draw in employees from all sorts of religious backgrounds, not just their own. A nurse or doctor may find him- or herself working at a Catholic hospital because it’s a good job, not because they agree with the theology. A professor may receive an enticing offer from a private religious university, despite their different personal views.

This differentiation between religious groups as secular-serving employers and religious groups operating for purely religious purposes allows a balance between providing important contraceptive services (along with other important health services) to workers and the freedom of religious entities.

Putting aside debates about the economic repercussions of these regulations, and despite the exemptions that religious groups are offered, many conservative groups still objected to the new rules put out by HHS.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, argued that the “HHS says the intent of its ‘preventive services’ mandate is to help stop health problems before they start, but pregnancy is not a disease, and children are not a ‘health problem’ β€” they are the next generation of Americans.”

The fact of the matter is that nearly all women in America (99 percent) from ages 15 to 44 will use some type of contraception during their life. The most widely used method is the pill, one of the most effective ways of preventing pregnancy. Pregnancy may not be a disease, but it is a matter that virtually every woman takes preventative measures against.

In addition to being used when avoiding a pregnancy, the pill (along with other hormonal methods) in particular is also frequently prescribed for other medical reasons. Roughly 1.5 million women rely on the pill for a strictly non-contraceptive purpose. Additionally, 58 percent of pill users take this medication for reasons beyond contraception. Often the pill can be used for heavy periods, intense menstrual cramps, the regulation of menstrual cycles or for the treatment of acne.

Those that oppose the new guidelines as an overall concept fail to acknowledge the fact that over 1 million women use the pill for health reasons unrelated to conceiving. The HHS recognizes what people like DiNardo seem to overlook β€” women use contraceptives for a variety of reasons.

The actions by the HHS have been heralded as a “historic victory for women’s health and women across the country,” according to the president of Planned Parenthood, Cecile Richards. It will work towards preventing “unintended pregnancies and keep women and children healthy,” she said.

It’s clear that when it comes to reproductive choices in America, women of all races, religions and socioeconomic levels have utilized some form of contraception. This change in insurance plans will open up the option for many women to pursue more effective forms of birth control previously out of reach to them or to simply be able to afford birth control. It’s a valuable service that allows women greater control over their own reproductive futures, rather than having to worry about paying extra each month for their next prescription and is rightly recognized as a victory for women.