Guest post by Ann Danforth, Progressive States Advocacy and Policy Manager at Raising Women’s Voices-NY.
In their latest attack on women’s health, the Trump Administration released two new rules that weaken the Affordable Care Act (ACA)’s birth control benefit. The interim final rules (see here and here), which went into effect immediately, allow employers to deny their employees birth control coverage because of an employer’s moral objection to birth control. In addition, the rules expand the scope of employers who can cite religious objections for denying their employees birth control coverage. Luckily, here in New York, many (but not all) women will be protected by new state regulations that require insurers to cover birth control with no cost sharing.
The ACA guarantees coverage for a set of women’s preventive health care services, which through federal regulations issued by the Obama administration, include birth control. As a result, employers are required to cover all methods of FDA-approved birth control for employees with no cost sharing. Under the Obama administration, houses of worship were exempt from the requirement to cover birth control for their employees. An accommodation ensured that women who work for a narrowly-defined group of employers that object to providing coverage on religious grounds still had access to seamless birth control coverage.
The Trump Administration’s recent actions expand the exemption to include all employers, universities, and insurance companies, and make the accommodation optional. Now, instead of an accommodation that protects employers’ religious views and women’s access to vital health care, these new rules simply allow almost any employer to refuse to provide birth control coverage to their employees for either moral or religious objections to contraception.
While not all employers will choose to deny contraceptive coverage to their employees, these rules create sweeping new exemptions that put women’s coverage at risk, and roll back important gains in women’s health. Thanks to the ACA, 62.4 million women have insurance coverage for their birth control with no out-of-pocket costs. The percentage of women with employer sponsored insurance who were paying out-of-pocket expenses for birth control pills fell from 1 out of every 4 women before passage of the ACA to just 1 out of every 28 women in 2014. And in 2013 alone, women saved $1.4 billion in co-pays and deductibles on birth control pills.
Here in New York, an estimated 3,855,517 women between the ages of 18 and 64 have preventive services coverage, including birth control, with zero cost sharing thanks to the ACA. Fortunately, many New York women will still have guaranteed access to contraception with no cost sharing because of recently finalized New York State regulations. These regulations require coverage without co-pays for one type of contraception in each of the 18 FDA-approved categories (the federal ACA standard), and allow for the dispensing of 12 months of contraception after an initial three-month allotment (June 28, 2017 Register: Page 13, Notice of Adoption). Unfortunately, however, our state requirements do not reach “self-funded” insurance plans, which are regulated by the federal government, and not subject to the New York regulations. Because as many as 40 percent of New Yorkers have these self-funded plans, there are a number of New York women who will not be protected. The Trump Administration’s new rules have put us in a place where a woman’s zip code, employer, or income determine her ability to access the contraception she needs.
While our colleagues at the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights have already filed lawsuits challenging the new rules, we must call on employers to stand up for their employees and publicly declare they will continue to provide contraceptive coverage. In addition, all of us who are employees can demand that our employers affirm they will continue providing contraceptive coverage. We will also continue to support legislation here in New York – the proposed Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act – that would place even stronger contraceptive coverage requirements into state law.