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Law To Provide Contraceptives Without Copay

Assoc. News Editor

Published: Sunday, February 26, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

On Mar. 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill that extended medical insurance to over 30 million people and overhauled the health care system in the United States. One of the most controversial provisions included in the overhaul was the mandate that employers must give their employees free access to contraceptive care through the insurance plans that the companies or organizations offer. Churches are exempt from this mandate, but religiously-affiliated universities and hospitals are not.

The constitutionality of Obama's bill's "individual mandate," which requires all U.S. citizens who do not have government or employer-provided health care to buy private health care or face a penalty, was attacked by 20 states immediately after it was signed into law. The Supreme Court will review the legality of the bill beginning in March.

Lawsuits over the preventative care aspect of the bill are now surfacing for the first time. Last Thursday, seven states, in conjunction with three religious organizations, filed a lawsuit that attacked the constitutionality of the bill's preventative care provisions.

Before these official lawsuits, there were many vocal attacks on the Obama Administration. Boston College endorsed a letter from the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU) sent to the Secretary of Health and Human Services last year that stated "compliance with these new rules would force us to deny our religious heritage and identity by helping our students to act contrary to Catholic teaching and belief."

After months of vocal opposition from religious organizations, the Obama Administration in early February offered a concession to religiously-affiliated organizations not exempted from the contraceptive care mandate. Instead of the objecting organizations paying the cost of free preventative care, insurance companies will now cover the entire total.

Unlike many other Catholic universities, BC was not especially impacted by the health care overhaul due to its location in Massachusetts.

"In Massachusetts, every college student has to have health insurance, and that's been true for years," said Thomas Nary, director of health services. "We have had that mandate for a while because of the state law."

Massachusetts passed a bill that required all state citizens to have a basic level of health insurance in 2006. The preventative care mandate has a limited effect on BC as well, since Massachusetts passed a bill in 2002 that forced insurance companies to cover contraception in the way that they cover other health products. BC has had to offer contraceptive care measures in the insurance it offers to employees since 2002, and in the insurance it offers students since 2006.

Obama's recent concession to Catholic colleges and universities will have an impact on BC, however.

"The one change is that contraceptive care is to be totally free," Nary said. "In my plan, and the plan we have here, you have a copay. In the proposed new law there would be no copay. If a young woman has a prescription, it will be free."

Nary worries that people who are uninformed about the insurance industry's practices will think Obama's recent concession will actually come at no cost to them.

"Nothing is free," Nary said. "Every year the insurance company BC chooses to offer its plan through comes back to us and sets new fees. If the company's claims from students are greater than their premiums for a given year, the next year they will come back and increase either premiums or copays. If you're getting birth control for no copays, that's going to show up on the claims. The insurance companies aren't going to lose money."

Though costs for insurance companies will be increased by the lack of copays for contraceptive care, this may not have a great effect on what students pay for insurance, due to the nature of the products.

"Interestingly enough, birth control is not a high cost part of an insurance company's claims," Nary said. "The highest-cost medication for college students is actually the new class of antidepressants."

Despite all of the excitement surrounding Obama's controversial bill and his stance on contraceptive care, BC health services will not be facing any major changes in the near future.

"If we were at the University of Nebraska there may be a lot of change, but for us there really isn't," Nary said.

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