All Women Enrolled in TRICARE Would Have Access to Free Birth Control Under Bill

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All women enrolled in the military’s health care program would have access to birth control, counseling and family planning services for free, under legislation pending in the House and Senate.

The Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act aligns TRICARE coverage with the 2010 Affordable Care Act, ensuring birth control and education are available without a health insurance co-pay to female service members who are not on active duty, or female dependents of service members. Currently women on active duty with TRICARE coverage do not have to pay out-of-pocket for prescription drugs, including contraception. The legislation defines pregnancy prevention care as all Food and Drug Administration-approved birth control, sterilization procedures and patient education and counseling.

“The Affordable Care Act established that being a woman is not a preexisting condition,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who introduced the bill on Wednesday. “We owe female servicemembers the same access to contraception and family planning services as the women they fight to protect.” Under Obamacare, new insurance plans have to offer free birth control and reproductive education to the enrollee; however, because some insurance coverage—mostly employer-sponsored plans—was grandfathered into the health care reform law, many women still have co-payments for contraception.

The Defense Department provides health care to more than 3 million women, including active-duty service members, non-active duty women and female dependents enrolled in TRICARE. “We need to make sure women in the military and women who rely on military health care are receiving the comprehensive care they deserve, and that needs to include access to basic preventative health care, including contraception and family planning counseling,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who introduced a similar bill in the Senate in July.

The legislation also requires the department to make sure every military treatment facility is fully-stocked with FDA-approved birth control for beneficiaries, to ensure access to contraception counseling for women and to educate all service members—male and female—on family planning. Under the bill, military treatment facilities also would be required to provide, upon request, emergency contraception and information about emergency birth control to any woman who is a victim of sexual assault, or “reasonably believed to be a survivor of sexual assault.”

A 2008 survey by Ibis Reproductive Health, an international nonprofit group that aims to improve women’s reproductive choices, found that the unintended pregnancy rate for women in the military was 50 percent higher than for civilian women. “Unintended pregnancy is not only a public health and reproductive justice concern, but also impacts troop readiness, deployment, and military health care costs,” the study stated. “The large number of unintended pregnancies among servicewomen each year likely has a significant impact on military operations and troop readiness; however, there are limited public data on this topic.”

(Image via charnsitr / Shutterstock.com)

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