As congressional Republicans falter in their plans to unravel the Affordable Care Act (ACA), they have no intention of replacing one of its signature and most popular provisions: the birth control benefit.
“That is not part of our program,” Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) told reporters Thursday at a Capitol Hill press conference when pressed about what would happen to the requirement for employer-sponsored health insurance plans to cover contraception as preventive care with no additional co-pay.
Should Republicans fail to replace the birth control benefit, many of the estimated 48.5 million women who rely on preventive services under the law would shoulder at least some out-of-pocket costs for contraceptive care. A January Politico/Morning Consult poll found that more than half of voters want to keep the benefit in place. Only three-in-ten want it gone.
Republicans in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have indicated their hostility to the birth control benefit. Senate Republicans defeated an effort to protect the benefit and other key ACA provisions—that Democrats launched to delay the fast-track repeal process—during a marathon “vote-a-rama.” A day later, House Republicans railroaded through the Senate’s kick-off measure, known as a budget resolution.
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As interim chair of the House Budget Committee, Black stands to wield significant influence in the GOP’s one-two punch to repeal the ACA, also known as Obamacare, and defund Planned Parenthood. Black took over the position from Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), an anti-choice leader who believes “there’s not one” woman who can’t afford birth control. Price is awaiting Senate confirmation to helm the Trump administration’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The agency under Price’s leadership could ax the birth control benefit on its own, declassifying contraceptives as preventive care before the ink dries on ACA repeal. And that’s a real possibility, given what the New York Times reported late Tuesday about the GOP’s increasing “struggles and false starts” on the path to their “once seemingly unstoppable” goal.
Black took questions from reporters during what amounted to a press junket for the anti-choice group Live Action’s latest misleading videos attempting to smear Planned Parenthood. Black and a handful of her colleagues, some of the most radical abortion rights foes in Congress, called the press conference just steps from the U.S. Capitol building but ceded run of the show to Live Action President Lila Rose—just as they did to anti-choice extremist Janet Porter when they recently dug in on a proposed total abortion ban.
Affordable contraceptives lead to fewer unintended pregnancies and abortions. But Black was either unwilling or unable to make the connection.
Black at first answered a question about the birth control benefit by inaccurately stating that people could simply obtain care elsewhere, the GOP’s long-touted but misleading alternative to Planned Parenthood affiliates.
Both Black and Rose repeatedly peddled false statistics that there are 20 community health centers for every one Planned Parenthood affiliate—a claim that earned two “Pinocchios” from The Washington Post’s fact checker.
After a reporter clarified that the birth control benefit applies to insurance, not clinics, Black said that a comparable benefit isn’t on the table, quickly turning again to other facilities as the catchall solution.
Black dismissed reports about potential fissures within House Republicans’ approach to Planned Parenthood. Freshman Rep. John Faso (R-NY), raised concerns that defunding the health-care organization as part of ACA repeal would backfire on Republicans, according to a surreptitious recording of the GOP’s recent bicameral retreat leaked to select media outlets.
“I’ve not had anyone come up to me to tell me that they have a concern,” Black said. “Rep. Faso speaks for himself.”
But Republicans indeed may want to think twice before they act, according to recent Planned Parenthood polling. A separate Quinnipiac poll found that 62 percent of voters oppose defunding efforts, and only half that percentage favor it.