As you probably know, birth control has been in the news ~a ton~ lately. ICYMI, on Thursday, the U.S. House Budget Committee voted 19-17 in favor of moving the American Health Care Act (aka the GOP replacement for the Affordable Care Act) to another final committee before the House of Representatives vote on it — a modified version of it. In other words, this is ~not good news~ for anyone who uses Planned Parenthood or clinics for birth control. It's also not good news for anyone who uses Medicaid to pay for contraception.
"There is strong concern with the pending new health care bill," Dr. Michael Krychman, Executive Director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine and co-author of The Sexual Spark: 20 Essential Exercises to Reignite the Passion, tells Bustle. "The prudent woman who is empowered and wants to self-direct her reproductive choices should certainly see her health care professional — NOW," Dr. Krychman says. "Run, don't walk. Be prepared, be empowered, and be in control of your reproductive choices. Make an appointment TODAY. Do not hesitate. Get your IUD and a refill for your oral contraceptives NOW. You may not have another opportunity."
As Dr. Krychman stated, if passed, the new health care bill, AHCA, will have many implications regarding birth control access as we now know it. In addition to Dr. Krychman, I spoke to some doctors and health care advisors about the impact AHCA will have on birth control. Here's what they had to say.
1Less Access To Birth Control
"Women should strongly consider permanent sterilization and or a long-acting reproductive contraceptive choice now if they are considering long-term family planning solutions," Dr. Krychman says. And, as Dr. Krychman stated above, now's the time to refill your birth control pills, too, for as long as possible. Oftentimes, you can get a year-long prescription, so be sure to ask.
Dr. Kecia Gaither, a double board-certified physician in OB/GYN and Maternal Fetal Medicine, also agrees about acting now when it comes to birth control. "Since Trumps' inauguration, there has been a marked increase nationwide of women electing for LARC (long-acting reversible contraceptives), before their options expire," she tells Bustle. "Planned Parenthood has seen an almost 900 percent increase in women surging in to obtain LARC. For some women, this choice may not be their first choice — but better this choice now than no choice later."
Rachel Fey, Director of Public Policy for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, weighs in, too. "The National Campaign's research shows Planned Parenthood is the only publicly funded clinic offering the full range of birth control methods," Fey tells Bustle. "If women covered by Medicaid — especially in those 105 counties [where Planned Parenthood is the only full-service birth control clinic] — cannot go to a provider offering the full range of methods then, again, their ability to get the birth control they need is harmed. This is how access to providers of birth control — especially to the most effective methods — is impacted."
2More Women Who Already Cannot Afford Birth Control Will Lose Access
"Roughly 20 million women in need of publicly funded family planning — meaning they make less than 250 percent of the federal poverty level, or approximately $30,000 a year for an individual — lack reasonable access to a public clinic with the full range of methods," Fey says. "In the changes the AHCA makes to insurance coverage, the bill threatens to take away millions of women’s health coverage and their access providers offering the full range of birth control methods — the very thing that helps to save tax dollars and reduce abortion." Staggering, right?
Britt Wahlin, Vice President for Development and Public Affairs at Ibis Reproductive Health, agrees. "Cutting federal funds to Planned Parenthood and eliminating the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion would block many low-income women from their only option for affordable birth control," Wahlin says.
Dr. Gaither also agrees. "For low-income women, it has been noted that Medicaid accounted for approximately 75 percent of public families' planning dollars in 2010," Dr. Gaither says. "Under Obamacare (the ACA), there were specific family-planning guidelines for those women covered by Medicaid/Medicare — particularly relating to LARC, which, under the new reform, potentially will be eradicated. Meaning? Low-income women will be directly impacted, and without the means to have options for paid contraceptive choices, long-term or otherwise. Should the repeal take place, and Medicaid/Medicare no longer cover contraception choices for low-income women, chaos would likely become the norm."
3More Unintended & High-Risk Pregnancies
"We can also anticipate a rise in unintended and unwanted pregnancies — due to limited contraception and/or a lack of available services for pregnancy termination," Dr. Krychman says. "This can cause serious societal and economic burdens, as well as an emotional burden for the patient."
Dr. Gaither, too, feels womens' pregnancies will be affected, and not in a good way. "From a Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist perspective, there would likely be an increase in adverse outcomes — more unintended high-risk pregnancies, more pre-term deliveries, and perinatal morbidity/mortality. There have been some states, New York among them, that have made legislative moves to protect no-cost access to contraception, should a decision be made to repeal the current mandate under the Affordable Care Act. Also, some states, such as Colorado, have experimented with setting up pilot programs to fund contraception on their own — with rather successful results."
4More Restrictions Regarding Abortion
"The bill also attacks reproductive health care by doubling down on restrictions on abortion coverage," Wahlin says. "Too many women are already denied abortion coverage because of how much they earn, and the repeal bill would push abortion out of reach for even more people."
5Less Freedom To Choose When, Or If, To Become Pregnant
"Preliminary research suggests that millions of people in the U.S. could lose their health care coverage if this new legislation becomes law," Ginny Ehrlich, CEO of The National Campaign, tells Bustle. "This would mean that even more women would be without the affordable access they need to decide if and when to become pregnant."
But Don't Panic — Yet!
"We don't advise women to panic," Fey says. "The path forward for the AHCA is not yet clear, and any legislation would likely undergo changes in the Senate that we cannot yet predict. We do think it's worth exploring all the methods of birth control available and deciding with your provider what's best for you. Also, if you love the birth control you've been able to get with no co-pay, tell us your story here."
There you have it, the impact the AHCA will have on birth control. "We strongly urge both chambers of Congress to vote against the American Health Care Act," Ehrlich says. "Nearly 20 million women already live in contraceptive deserts where they do not have reasonable access to the full range of birth control methods, despite the significant coverage gains brought by the ACA."
Meanwhile, what can you do? Like Dr. Krychman and Fey say above, see your health care provider or OB/GYN to make a plan about your birth control options, especially while you still have the chance.