John McCain, birth control and Viagra. The video footage is somewhat amusing, as John McCain avoids a question from a reporter about whether it’s fair that most health insurance carriers cover drugs to treat erectile dysfunction, but are not required to cover prescription birth control (although a lot of them do anyway). This issue has been jumped on by the media – it’s funny to watch McCain try to answer the question, and of course it’s an issue that gets strong reactions from a lot of people. It’s seen as having a strong link to Roe v. Wade, and a lot of women see McCain’s vote against requiring health insurance carriers to cover birth control as an attack on reproductive rights.
I’m very much in favor of informed family planning and choices when it comes to our bodies and our health. But let’s stand back and look at this as insurance question rather than a moral or social question. Assuming nobody is trying to outlaw birth control (which is a concern that has been voiced by some groups) – should health insurance cover it? At the Colorado Health Insurance Insider, we’ve written before about the definition of insurance. Health insurance is meant to protect us from financial ruin in the event of a serious illness or injury. If birth control were an extremely expensive medication, I would say that health insurance carriers should have to cover it, as I do believe it is a necessity for a huge number of people. But birth control isn’t that expensive. Until recently, I paid $15/month for a generic prescription from Smart Woman Rx, and they were delivered to my door. True, there are more expensive birth control options out there, but there are plenty of generic birth control pills that cost less than $20/month, with no health insurance involved at all. Most health insurance plans have copays of $10 to $20 for generics anyway – does the coverage really help that much?
So while I believe family planning is an essential service, and that birth control is a necessity, I don’t think we need a mandate to force health insurance carriers to pay for it. My view is simply based on the price of birth control. If it cost $400/month, I would absolutely feel that it should be covered by all health insurance carriers. But it doesn’t. Nothing that can be obtained on the free market for $15/month should be mandated on health insurance policies. That’s simply not the objective of health insurance coverage. While it would be nice to get our birth control for free, somebody would have to pay for it. And that would come in the form of higher premiums. We already have more than enough people without health insurance coverage at all. Every time we mandate something new on health insurance policies, the premiums go up, and more people drop their coverage. So which is worse, more people without any coverage at all, or more people having to pay for their own birth control? As much as it pains me to say this as a woman, I don’t believe that we should force health insurance companies to pay for birth control. And just for the record, I feel the same way about Viagra.