The birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is one of the most important nondiscrimination provisions of the health-care law. The benefit requires that employer-provided health plans treat contraception like all other preventive medicine and cover it with no additional costs or co-pays to employees.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Trump administration could allow employers to opt out of providing that birth control coverage in their employee health plans if the employer had a religious or moral objection, it threatened the birth control coverage of millions of employees and students across the country. It left many with the same question: Now what?
Mara Gandal-Powers, director of birth control access at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), walked us through some basic birth control benefit facts you may be wondering about.
Rewire.News: How can an employee find out if their health insurance plan covers contraception?
NWLC: Your HR or benefits staff at work should have answers to this question. But we understand that it may not be comfortable to ask that question of your employer, or if your insurance is through a spouse or parent’s employer it may not be possible.
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You can also look at your health insurance documents—you have a right to access the full coverage documents at any time. You can search the documents to see if there are coverage exceptions—I recommend using the search terms “contracept” “family planning” and “birth control” because different documents might use different terms.
If an employer health plan covers contraception, how worried should employees be? Is there anything employees can do to make sure employers that cover contraception continue to do so?
NWLC: The good news is that most people will still have birth control after this decision because most employers want to cover it. Over 61 million women have birth control coverage thanks to the birth control benefit—but we anticipate several hundred thousand people will lose coverage as a result of the Trump birth control rules. If you currently have birth control coverage in an employer health plan, most plans will be required to provide you with a notice if they drop coverage, so pay close attention to letters or other communications from the insurance company.
Employees can talk to the benefits team and share that they are encouraged to see the continued birth control coverage. These comments can both help the benefits team know what employees want and motivate them should management consider a coverage change.
If an employer plan doesn’t cover contraception, what if anything can the employees do about it?
NWLC: Because there is no list of all employers that exclude contraception, it is important for employees to share this information with others so they can know as well. The NWLC operates a hotline called CoverHer, and we can talk with employees about their situation. Employees can also let people know through employer-review websites like Glassdoor, so that people job searching will know about this problem before they decide about a job there.
What’s next in the fight over the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act?
NWLC: This fight is definitely not over. The Supreme Court remanded Pennsylvania’s case back to the lower courts because there are claims that are still to be decided. And there are also cases brought by California and Massachusetts, as well as one in which we, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the Center for Reproductive Rights represent a student group, Irish 4 Reproductive Health, that had been stayed pending the Supreme Court decision. Each of these cases is now moving forward, and a lower court could stop the Trump birth control rules in any of them.