Health,  Politics

Birth control opt-out policy will cost Long Island women hundreds of dollars

By: Remi Schott

The sound of studio-synthesized guitars, powerful drums, and deafening screams of Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” fill the air, reminding 20-year-old Tate Simmons to take her birth control. It’s 7:06 P.M as Simmons runs to her bag and pulls out the little parcel holding one month’s worth of pills.

Simmons, a resident of Point Lookout, has been taking birth control for four years. Still on her parents’ health insurance plan, her mother’s employer provides cost-free coverage for birth control. The Trump administration’s new policy finalized on Nov. 7 allows some employers with religious or moral objections to opt out of providing no-cost birth control for female employees. The policy will force women like Tate to pay out of pocket for contraceptives.

“Although I do still owe a 5 dollar co-pay every month that I get a refill, I can’t imagine having to pay for it out of pocket,” Simmons said. “The cost of living on Long Island is extremely high. Paying out of pocket would prevent me from being able to pay other important bills.”

The policy change rolled back a federal requirement previously adopted under the Affordable Care Act during the Obama administration in which employers were mandated to cover birth control regardless of their religious alignment.

The Affordable Care Act- gave 62.8 million women access to coverage of birth control, according to the National Women’s Law Center.

“One study estimates that women saved $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs in 2013 alone resulting from the ACA’s contraceptive mandate,” Michelle Banker, the senior counsel at the National Women’s Law Center, said. “We estimate that hundreds of thousands of women could be impacted.”

“Without insurance coverage, women can spend $850 annually on birth control pills and related care,” Banker said. “Long-acting, highly effective reversible methods like IUDs can have high upfront costs — as much as $1300 for someone without insurance coverage.”

A study published by the Guttmacher Institute in 2018 found that more than 99% of women aged 15-44 who have had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method, while 60% of all women of reproductive age are currently using a contraceptive method.

The Nassau County Chapter of Planned Parenthood is certain that the new  policy finalized by the Trump administration will have a large impact on younger individuals who utilize birth control.

“Even if their parents don’t need to access birth control, young people will be impacted if they lose access through their parents’ insurance,” Julianna Claase, the brand and marketing manager of Planned Parenthood of Nassau County, said. “Because these youth are unemployed, they are not likely to be able to afford this cost. This heightens the risk of unintended teenage pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases.”

President Trump’s administration first passed legislation regarding women’s access to health services in 2017 with the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The AHCA defunded Planned Parenthood and reduced access to no-cost preventive services, including birth control.

Congressmen Peter King and Lee Zeldin of Long Island supported this bill.

“Lee Zeldin and Peter King, Suffolk County’s two congressmen, have long records of denying women and their families access to many reproductive health services,” Karyn O’Beirne, the President of Mid-Suffolk NOW, an organization that fights for women’s rights on a local and national level, said. “They support policies that make women in this country and on Long Island second class citizens when it comes to health access issues.”

In 2018, Zeldin voted to restrict abortion rights and defund Planned Parenthood. He maintains that he has supported legislation to protect women’s rights.

“As the father of twin daughters, Congressman Zeldin has supported countless measures to ensure that women are protected and given access to opportunity, security, and prosperity,” Chris Boyle, a spokesman for Zeldin said. “He supports women leaders throughout our community who will shape our future.”

King could not immediately be reached for comment.

In response to the AHCA, New York governor Andrew Cuomo passed an executive order in July 2018 to protect women’s access to contraception. However, women on Long Island are still worried the federal policy will affect their access to reproductive health care.

“What women do not understand is that New York State has not yet codified Roe vs. Wade, which means it is not in the law codes,” Ivy Algazy, CEO of the Ivy Network and Melville resident, said. “What Governor Cuomo did was to protect NY women for the time.”

When asked about how the federal policy will affect Long Island constituents, District 10 legislator Tom Cilmi, District 12 legislator Leslie Kennedy, and District 3 legislator Rudy Sunderman declined to comment.

The new policy was passed on the basis that the constitutional right of religious individuals and institutions to practice their religion freely was violated under the Affordable Care Act.

“Anybody who is going to force an institution which adheres to the Catholic faith is violating constitutional protection and the free practice of our religion, and it would be forcing us to engage in activities that we deem to be intrinsically evil,” said Michael Hichborn, the president of The Lepanto Institute, a research and education organization dedicated to protecting the Catholic Church.

“The policy allows Catholic organizations to remain Catholic without violating their consciences, which is precisely what it intended to do,” Hichborn said.

However, critics of the new policy argue that it is a threat to the separation of church and state.

“This policy places undue burden on women under the thin guise of ‘religious freedom.’ Women have the right to make their own choices about their bodies and their medical health,” Jude Geiger, the minister of Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Huntington, said. “If one doesn’t believe in birth control, one should not practice it, but that doesn’t give the person the right to deny another’s life and liberty.”

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