In July 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the Trump administration’s exemptions to the birth control insurance mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Specifically, the ruling means employer health insurance plans are no longer required to cover contraception or birth control if the employer has moral or religious objections.
In addition to targeting women’s health issues, the Department of Health and Human Services estimates the ruling could result in up to 126,000 women immediately losing contraceptive coverage, at an average annual cost of $584.
However, if your employer decides your insurance will no longer cover birth control, there are still steps you can take to find affordable contraception.
Why did the SCOTUS rule against birth control coverage?
The Little Sisters of the Poor case has dragged on for years. It is also one in a long line of legal challenges against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 and its requirements that employer-provided coverage includes birth control. This case is also based on a foundation built by Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and the Trump administration’s rulings on religious and moral exemptions. Both of these indicate that religious belief means employer insurance plans shouldn’t need to cover contraception, based on moral and religious grounds. However, New Jersey and Pennsylvania didn’t agree with any of this and have challenged the administration’s roll-back efforts on contraception.
The U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) ruling on The Little Sisters of the Poor has taken the wind out of that challenge, and at some cost. While the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate has been shown to save women millions of dollars on birth control pills alone, employers can now opt out of that coverage.
Even “cheap” birth control can be really expensive
The Guttmacher Institute points out that effective contraceptive methods like intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants are the best bet against preventing pregnancies. These methods, however, come with high up-front costs.
“In the absence of the contraceptive coverage guarantee, many women would need to pay more than $1,000 to start using one of these methods,” says the Guttmacher Institute’s director of policy analysis, Adam Sonfield. He went on to say this cost represents a month’s salary for a woman working full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.
Also expensive? The “relatively inexpensive” birth control pill. These run from $20 to $50 per individual pack per month, meaning $240 to $600 per year, according to the National Women’s Health Network (NWHN). The $60 Depo-Provera shots can also add up, totaling approximately $240 per year.
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Additionally, there is more to contraception than just buying the pill or device. Women need to see a health care provider for a prescription, as well. As such, “these costs don’t include the cost of a contraceptive counseling appointment with a health provider who can prescribe them,” the NWHN said.
Finally, the SCOTUS ruling has a disparate impact on minority women, who tend to earn lower wages. An amicus curiae brief filed in connection with the Little Sisters case pointed out that one in three Latinx women and four in 10 Black women of reproductive age can’t afford to pay more than $10 a month for contraception. If companies with religious objections to contraception employ those women, they might not have access to affordable birth control.
What if your employer stops covering contraceptives?
Despite the SCOTUS ruling, it’s important to keep in mind that all employers will not suddenly take contraception coverage out of their insurance policies. Many will continue to cover birth control devices and drugs in their plans. Furthermore, individuals purchasing health insurance directly from an Affordable Care Act (ACA) state or federal marketplace will still have access to contraception coverage.
The issue here is whether your employer decides to opt out of contraceptive coverage on religious or moral grounds. Rather than waiting until this might happen, you can take the following steps.
- Check your insurance policy based on the state where you work. The SCOTUS ruling takes place on a federal level, so chances that states will continue to challenge the decision are high. Consumer Reports noted that the SCOTUS ruling might not consider certain plans in some states.
- If your employer does opt out, talk to your human resources department. Through that channel, you can obtain contact information for the insurance company that covers you or the third-party administrator. While your employer might not agree to pay for contraception coverage directly, the third-party administrator might be willing to do so.
- Seek out discount programs and coupons through companies such as GoodRx, or take advantage of drugstore reduction plans. Such coupons and discounts can be useful if you take birth control pills; many national pharmacies (such as Walmart and Walgreens) also offer this medication at a lower cost.
- Contact organizations such as Planned Parenthood or federally qualified health centers. Planned Parenthood is at the center of the fight for women’s rights and can provide you with information about your rights when it comes to accessing birth control coverage. Federally qualified health centers in your area can also provide you with information on this topic.
Too long, didn’t read?
The recent Supreme Court birth control ruling could shut thousands of women out from much-needed insurance coverage for contraception. While the situation looks unfavorable for women’s health — especially for minority and lower-income women — legal challenges will continue. In the meantime, your best bet is to examine your own insurance, know your employer’s stance on the topic and find alternate ways to obtain access to affordable contraception. Being prepared could mean fewer costs down the road.
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