Contraception debate hits home: Contraceptive Equity Act would require coverage of birth control without co-pay


The heated debate across the country about insurance coverage of contraceptives recently landed in Minnesota.

On the national level, many faith-based companies, such as Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America, argue that requiring companies to cover birth control in their health insurance plans goes against the religious beliefs of the company, according to the Associated Press.

The group and many others protested a bill requiring all employers to cover birth control in their health plans. CMRSA, as well as seven states, sued the federal government for proposing the bill.

In reaction to the controversy, lawmakers modified the bill so that all faith-based insurance companies will be exempt from full coverage of contraceptives.

In Minnesota, Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, introduced the Contraceptive Equity Act earlier this month. The bill would require all employers to fully cover the costs of contraception without co-pay to provide greater access for women.

Like the federal version, the bill will exclude religious organizations, but insurance companies will have to work with an individual employee to provide contraceptive coverage.

“Over the past several weeks, both nationally and in other states, we have seen repeated attacks on access to basic health care for women,” Murphy said in a statement. “We are here to say not in Minnesota.”

Other states like Wisconsin and Iowa have similar legislation.

According to data from the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, women of reproductive age on average spend about 68 percent more than men on out-of-pocket costs for health care, due mostly to contraceptive costs.

Oral contraceptives can cost up to $1,210 per year for women without health insurance coverage.

University assistant professor Katy Kozhimannil recently conducted a study that showed reproductive-age women —between 18 and 48 — and pregnant women are more at-risk of being uninsured or have gaps in coverage.

The study also shows a decrease in the amount of women covered under private health insurance. However, there was an increase in the number of both men and women who are covered. Kohzimannil suggested that women are turning to state aid like Medicaid to fill the gaps in coverage.

Kohzimannil expressed her concern about the lack of proper services provided.

“What is important to keep in mind is just because insurance coverage increases, coverage doesn’t always equal access to services,” she said.

At the University of Minnesota, women take different sides on the issue.

“Most of what we do is making sure that the students know that this [debate] is going on. This isn’t the sort of thing that is publicized on campus,” said Kelsey Pexa, University Pro-Choice Coalition co-chairwoman and an accounting sophomore.

Second-year graduate student Michelle Hackner explained that her attendance at the University of Notre Dame, a Catholic school exposed her to Catholic students and faculty who may or may not have taken birth control.

“It comes down to personal choice and religious freedom on both sides,” said Hackner, who is also a Medical Students for Human Life officer.

However, many people do not agree with the stance of faith-based organizations.

“I believe everybody should have access to birth control,” said Laura Cowan, second-year law student and Women’s Law Student Association treasurer. She said the issue consistently reverts back “to the fundamental rights that women have to an abortion.”

“I don’t like the idea of having something like abortion being legal, but not accessible,” she said. “In the long run, it just makes more sense to have the government help with these things.”

Cowan is currently taking a reproductive rights class which focuses on the law and history of birth control, abortion and other reproductive issues.

WLSA promotes women’s rights, women having access to opportunities and women having a voice in and outside of the legal profession. Affordability is one aspect of accessibility, and is an extension of the group’s main focus.

As the debate continues in Minnesota, the contraceptive bill recently gained the support of several other House democrats including Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who represents the University area.

The proposed state legislation was referred to the House Commerce and Regulatory Reform Committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.