As a student who daydreams about defending reproductive health in front of the Supreme Court, I make it my business to know the political landscape female bodies are living in. for many young women who are just trying to live their lives, choice is robbed from them.
For example, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was supposed to provide contraception with no co-pays to everyone who had insurance. This means that no barrier would be put in front of a women when it came to her reproductive health decisions. If she wanted to have a baby? Great! If she didn’t? There were options! Like IUDs and the pill and that patch and contraception galore. This coverage was granted to us almost a year ago, yet still somehow women don’t have choices.
This is partly due to the out of compliance insurance companies inhibiting full coverage by mechanisms like “step therapy” or formularies. This summer, I’m interning for NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota and I’ve investigated the extent to which insurance companies in the area comply with the ACA.
I called five insurance companies multiple times, and always with the same story: “Hi, I am a 20-something year old living in Minnesota. I am looking for a new insurance and wanted to know what my options were when it came to contraception. What do you cover?” Well, if I asked President Obama himself, the answer would have been, “EVERYTHING! AND IT’S FREE! YAY! GO YOU!”
This was not the case when I talked to insurance representatives. Most of them didn’t know the answer when I asked about specific brands. I was either transferred or put on hold for most of the calls. What was supposed to be a simple question turned into a headache. I felt even more confused and searched online for answers. I found out contraceptive coverage was much more minimal than expected. In order for me to be provided with free birth control, a lot of work had to be put in.
To put this insurance mess into perspective, in the past 6 months I have helped three friends receive the contraception they wanted after they were unable to navigate the insurance process by themselves. Similar to my experience as a secret shopper, insurance representatives gave unclear guidance over the phone and websites were equally unhelpful when it came to answering my friends specific questions about their coverage. They asked me to help because they know my sister is a lady doctor. My sister ended up graciously looking through her phone book to find colleagues to place IUDs in my friends. That’s a lot of strings being pulled just for something we are guaranteed by law.
This is about equality. Women should not be “shushed” when they want access to contraception when men are guaranteed coverage for their medication. Getting pregnant is a huge deal and women should have the means to control their wombs. It’s about the power of choice.
When women are empowered by their choices, everyone benefits. As the lovely Emma Watson pointed out, gender equality is about all of us, no matter what body parts you have. When we limit the potential of women, by extension, we limit men as well.
Next time your insurance company won’t cover your birth control prescription, don’t take it! Ask to speak to their manager. Remind them they do, indeed, have to follow the ACA. My time spent uncovering the cracks in the system made it very clear to me a lot of work still needs to be done. And what’s more is people are scared. Some are scared to ask for power, while others are afraid to hand it over. The ability to control our lives is hanging right under our noses, we just have to be bold enough to demand it.
Written by Elizabeth Levi
Macalester College 2016, Political Science Major and Intern for NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota