SACRAMENTO, CA — On Wednesday SB 1053, the Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act, passed through the California Senate Health committee along party lines by a vote of 6-1. The bill now moves to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Introduced by California Senator Holly J. Mitchell (D-26) of Los Angeles, SB 1053 builds on current state and federal law to improve access to the full range of FDA-approved birth control methods by ensuring that all Californians with a health insurance plan can obtain contraception without restrictions, delays, or out-of-pocket costs. The bill is co-sponsored by the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) and the California Family Health Council.
The Women's Health Amendment in the federal health reform law (the Affordable Care Act), requires most health insurance carriers to cover the full range of FDA-approved birth control methods and voluntary sterilization services, without any out-of-pocket costs for female enrollees and dependents. While this requirement was a significant step forward, related federal regulations allowed for "reasonable medical management techniques" to be applied in the context of contraceptive coverage, but did not include a definition of the term. This lack of clarity has led to inadequate and inconsistent implementation of the contraceptive coverage provision. The result is that women across the nation and state are being denied the birth control method of their choice or must to wait or pay out-of-pocket for the method prescribed by their health care provider.
"A woman's choice—in consultation with her health care provider—should determine her method of contraception," said Senator Mitchell. "Medical management that creates barriers to particular methods deprives women of their reproductive freedom and increases the risk of unintended pregnancy."
In addition, the Affordable Care Act's coverage requirement fails to include male methods of contraception. This exclusion allows carriers to deny coverage of male birth control such as vasectomy services, forcing men to continue paying out-of-pocket to share in the responsibility for preventing unintended pregnancy. Even when insurance plans provide coverage for the procedure, the remaining co-pay is still a significant barrier to access for many men.
"SB 1053 would bring equity to this arena by making comprehensive coverage accessible regardless of gender," said Susan Berke Fogel, NHeLP director of reproductive health. "That's good medicine and good policy."
As health reform implementation moves forward, now is the time to build upon the progress made at the state and federal levels to ensure that all Californians with health insurance—through Covered California, private or employer based coverage, or Medi-Cal Managed Care—have contraceptive coverage that is comprehensive, fair, and consistent.
"With SB 1053, Californians will have greater access to the birth control method that works best for them so they can more effectively plan their families and their futures. SB 1053 can continue California's leadership in passing common sense legislation to help both women and men prevent unintended pregnancies," said Julie Rabinovitz, president and CEO of California Family Health Council.