Last week, we contemplated how much money a woman would save in her lifetime if women's basic health needs covered under the Affordable Care Act. Today, it's official: They will be! The Department of Health and Human Services has announced that health care like birth control and "well woman" physicals will be copay-free starting August 1, 2012.
This is a huge deal for women and their families, and a huge relief for those who predicted some meddling from Congress. But it's a travesty that it's taken our health care system so long to subsidize birth control. Women's rights activists have long advocated for a more accessible way to prevent unintended pregnancies. Many studies (and common sense) indicate that free access to birth control does indeed reduce abortion rates and save the government money in the long run. Given that 99 percent of American women will use birth control at some point in their lives, there's no reason why this legislation should have been delayed, let alone debated.
Although it sometimes seems like the United States lags eons behind on health care, even some sensible countries with national health care systems have only begun to consider the prospect of free birth control. Canada's national plan, for instance, does not fully cover it; neither does France's, Sweden's or Norway's (although some countries subsidize birth control for young women, and Norway has a few pilot programs in the works). This is a big leap forward not only for women in our own country, but for women everywhere.
But the legislation is not perfect. The Obama administration released an amendment to allow religious institutions the choice to opt out of these guidelines. Given the fact that most women of faith use birth control, that move isn't likely to please many female employees of those institutions. In the future, let's hope that the U.S. will require equal health care access for women of all faiths. Until then, this is fabulous news for women's ovaries and bank accounts, and a long-overdue step in the right direction.