Some religious institutions are objecting to new federal rules requiring that they cover contraception for their employees in their health insurance policies. Below, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) physicians remember patients whose stories show the importance of affordable birth control for all women, no matter where they work. (Patients’ names have been changed.)
Mary is a 28-year-old mother of two. She works as a medical assistant at a religiously-affiliated hospital. She had multiple complications with her most recent pregnancy and was told that she should never become pregnant again. For Mary, another pregnancy could be life-threatening. Mary loves her two children and wants to make sure she stays healthy for them. She and her obstetrician decided that an IUD would be the best way to prevent a future pregnancy.
At her doctor’s office, she found out that her insurance, because it is through her work, does not cover contraception. She was surprised and confused that, despite her doctor’s recommendation of an IUD, her insurance would not cover it.
I met Mary when she came to our Title X clinic. We were able to provide her with an IUD through a family planning grant. It was unfair to Mary that her insurance did not adequately protect her health and that she did not know in advance about the gaps in her coverage. I hope that in the future women like Mary can rely on their insurance plans for the resources to stay healthy and be there for their families.—Tara Kumaraswami, MD, Chicago, IL
Maria is 15 years old. I met her after she had her first menstrual period. She bled so heavily that she had to be admitted to the hospital and receive a blood transfusion. The best treatment for Maria’s condition (menorrhagia) is birth control pills. They regulate the menstrual cycle and prevent dangerous bleeding for patients like Maria. In fact, one-third of U.S. teens use contraception for reasons other than avoiding pregnancy.
Maria and her family are practicing Catholics. I discussed birth control pills with her parents. If she did not start the medication, every time she had her period she would be at risk of bleeding so much she would need another transfusion—possibly every month. After carefully weighing the decision, her parents decided that birth control pills would be the best way to keep Maria healthy and out of the hospital.
Birth control pills are not just for contraception—they help manage conditions like Maria’s as well as lower the risk for certain cancers. All families need affordable access to medications that safeguard their health, including birth control.—Yolanda Evans, MD, MPH, Seattle, WA
When I was in residency, I took care of Rita, a young Catholic mother of five. Rita was suffering from a serious heart defect. She was six weeks pregnant and had a defective cardiac valve that had to be replaced with a synthetic one. Pregnancy put her at high risk for a blood clot forming on the new valve and traveling to her brain, where it could kill her.
Rita had not been using contraception because she had no insurance to make it affordable—not because she didn’t want to use it. While in the hospital, despite taking blood thinners to treat her clots, Rita had a stroke. The woman I had spent hours with talking about caring for her five living children, her marriage, how to handle her unplanned pregnancy—that woman could now no longer speak or walk. When I think of birth control access, I think of Rita and her family.—Jennefer Russo, MD, Pittsburgh, PA
Susan worked in administration at a Catholic Archdiocese, and her employer provided health insurance that did not cover contraception because of the employer’s belief that birth control is immoral. Susan was in a relationship and did not want to become pregnant. Her partner refused to use condoms and the burden to prevent pregnancy fell on her.
Because of her high blood pressure, Susan could not take birth control pills, and she and her doctor decided that an IUD was her best preventive health care option. But Susan could not afford the hundreds of dollars for the device and insertion. She went without any birth control, became pregnant and then had an abortion that should have never become necessary.—Anonymous U.S. physician
Four years ago I graduated from medical school. I had paid for school on my own and was deeply in debt. I was excited to begin my residency and start earning a small paycheck. At the beginning of my residency I had an intrauterine device (IUD) placed using my new health insurance from Catholic Healthcare West. I wanted to be sure that I didn’t become pregnant and I knew an IUD was the best option for me. IUDs cost about $1,000 up front to insert. There was absolutely no way I could have afforded the payment without insurance. I shudder to think of women out there who would be left with few options if religious insurance plans were allowed to refuse this coverage.—Angela Angelucci, DO, Los Angeles, CA
My patient Ava is 45 years old and has four children. Two years ago she suffered a stroke. To prevent future strokes, Ava must take a blood thinner. Her condition is complicated because that medication causes heavy, sometimes life-threatening, bleeding when she has her period. An IUD is the safest option to reduce that bleeding.
But Ava’s husband works as a facilities engineer at a large Catholic hospital, and his insurance will not cover contraception for any reason. The fee for an IUD is over $1,000, an outlay that Ava and her family could not afford. I had to refer her to a Title X clinic for assistance. IUDs not only prevent unintended pregnancy, but they also help keep women like Ava healthy. An employer’s refusal to cover this necessary medication creates hardship for families like Ava’s and stretches the safety net meant to cover those without insurance.—Lori Gawron, MD, Chicago, IL
I care for many women who are employees and students at a large, well respected, Catholic college. These women have no objections to birth control—they are either not Catholic, or among the ninety-eight percent of Catholic women who have used birth control. Most have no idea their insurance does not cover birth control pills or any other contraceptive until they begin working or studying there. When they find out, some panic because they cannot afford the full cost. These amounts can be prohibitive for a family on a budget. The college educates and employs thousands of women; they should not be denied affordable birth control as a condition of studying or working there.—Anonymous U.S. physician
I recently cared for a 24-year-old woman named Somsri. She had come to see me about contraception. Somsri has a genetic blood disorder that caused a dangerous blood clot in her leg. To manage this condition, she needs to be on an anticoagulant cocktail for the rest of her life. Somsri also should not get pregnant because it would be very dangerous for her.
An IUD would be the best form of contraception for Somsri. Unfortunately, her health insurance did not cover the IUD’s cost, and she did not have $1,000 to pay for it out-of-pocket. Somsri left without an IUD. Her only affordable option was condoms, which have a significant failure rate.
Six months later Somsri was pregnant. Because of her condition, her pregnancy was very complicated and she nearly died, ultimately needing a hysterectomy to stop her bleeding.
All women deserve accessible and affordable contraceptive services, no matter where she works or how much money she makes.—Orawee Chinthakanan, MD, Atlanta, GA
Melanie has worked for many years as an emergency room nurse at a Catholic hospital. She wanted a long-acting, reversible contraceptive, specifically an IUD. But the hospital’s health insurance did not cover birth control. Melanie paid for birth control pills out-of-pocket, but she had experienced an unintended pregnancy while on the pill and knew that an IUD would be more effective.
However, Melanie could not afford the nearly $1,000 for the IUD and its insertion. Instead, Melanie obtained an IUD from a nearby study of a new, experimental type of IUD. Her need for an IUD plainly outweighed her worries about using a contraceptive without FDA approval.—Anonymous U.S. physician
Liz is 27 years old and has three children. I cared for her last year when I delivered her youngest child. Ever since then we have been trying to find her an affordable form of birth control. She is on Medicaid and has a managed care plan through a religious carrier. Most Medicaid plans cover birth control, but her policy has an exemption for contraception.
Liz lives with her children in a homeless shelter. She is trying to get on her feet and create a better life for her and her family. Her inability to access affordable contraception puts her at high risk of unintended pregnancy at a time in her life when she is already struggling for survival.—Dana Schonberg, MD, New York, NY
My patient Julia is in her 20s and poor. Julia loves her two children very much, but their births were medically complicated, and Julia does not want to have another baby. She is content with her family.
Even though Julia is Catholic, she decided that a tubal ligation—or “tying her tubes”—was the best way to prevent an unintended pregnancy. But Julia has Medicaid through a religious carrier, and her plan will not cover a tubal ligation. She had had no idea that her plan could refuse to cover certain services. Now Julia has to go back to using less effective forms of contraceptives that have failed her in the past.—Kathleen Morrell, MD, Brooklyn, NY
Kristen worked as a nursing assistant at a Catholic hospital. Her insurance did not cover contraception. Kristen, who is not Catholic, did not know about this policy until after she started working at the hospital. When Kristen first refilled her prescription for birth control pills, she discovered that she would need to pay $50 per month, a new expense for which she had not budgeted, as her last employer had covered contraceptives.
Kristen was able to afford her prescription for a few months, but could not continue. She later had an unintended pregnancy and needed an abortion.—Anonymous U.S. physician
Part of the #HERvotes blog carnival.