Oregon Bill Takes Big Step in Women’s Reproductive Health
Thursday, March 26, 2015
The Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill, if passed, would make Oregon the first state in the nation to cover contraception, abortion, childbirth and postpartum care, under all forms of insurance, from employer-sponsored to government programs.
The bill also includes a 12-month supply of contraception to be dispensed at one time.
Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward is one of the four female Democratic lawmakers who drafted Senate Bill 894, which is supported by a diverse coalition of organizations that are working to expand access and close gaps in existing women’s health care.
“With the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act,” said Sen. Hayward, “ambiguity from the federal government leaves the Oregon Health Authority without a clear directive on whether or not the full range of reproductive health services, including safe and legal abortion, is offered under the Oregon Health Plan (OHP).”
While some women are transitioning from out-of-pocket and into state health care, Planned Parenthood continues to serve over 78,000 Oregonians each year, whether they qualify for Medicaid, have private insurance, or no insurance.
Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon (PPAO), a coalition partner, says this bill would streamline care. “Today, women are buying plans and not receiving equal coverage for their pregnancy decisions,” said Alicia Temple, PPAO Policy Director.
“Senate Bill 894 will clear up this confusion, giving Oregon women the clarity they need to make the right decisions for their family.”
Low-Income Women Are Hit the Hardest
To enforce the urgency of their bill, Sen. Hayward, along with Senator Sara Gelser, Representative Barbara Smith Warner, and Representative Alissa Keny-Guyer, presented a fact sheet to the legislature that noted about half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, and mostly among low-income women and women of color.
These two demographics experience the greatest setbacks from restrictions on health care, as well as immigrant women, young women, women who live in rural areas, transgender people and survivors of domestic violence.
The statistics brought forward also revealed that 70 percent percent of women who are sexually active and in their childbearing years are at risk of unintended pregnancy, as the cost of contraception is a considerable barrier.
In 2012, there were 471,860 Oregon women in need of contraceptive services and supplies. Of these, 266,690 were in need of publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies, 214,710 of whom had incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
She has OHP now, which covers her birth control pills, but the road to getting the right coverage was a bumpy one. With an income hovering near the poverty line, she said she couldn’t get the care she needed.
“I used to pay out of pocket for my birth control pills, which was extremely difficult,” said Flaherty. “I have reproductive issues and need to constantly take birth control, so I had to pay for extra packs. It was averaging $180 every three months.”
People of lower incomes do not often have employers that provide insurance, while state plans still leave holes. The Latino community is no stranger to this predicament.
“Latino women are the most under-insured or uninsured community, not just across Oregon, but across the nation,” says Linda Sarai Roman, health equity policy coordinator at Oregon Latino Health Coalition.
The health risks that result in poor reproductive care are alarming, assures Sarai Roman. “When a mother is not able to obtain prenatal care, she’s three times more likely to give birth to a low-weight baby, and the child is five times more likely to die,” she said.
Women’s Reproductive Rights Under Attack
The nation’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires insurers to cover a range of reproductive health services, including STD counseling and contraceptives.
But while it is a huge advancement for women’s health, “since the ACA was signed five years ago, and because the new federal law allows it,” said Sen. Hayward, “25 states have actually banned safe, legal abortion from being offered in their state-based health insurance plans.”
With a pro-choice electorate, Oregon remains the only state left with no restrictions on access to safe, legal abortion. As it stands, OHP will cover abortions for low-income women, but it’s not a law. That is where the proactive measure comes in.
“We thought there was an opportunity to push for progressive legislation that would support women’s reproductive autonomy, our personal decision-making,” said Aimee Santos-Lyons, director of programs for Western States Center.
“I’ve had three live births, an abortion, and have been contracepting for two decades,” continued Santos-Lyons. “So my life has been full of different reproductive decisions, and I’ve also had many levels of insurance coverage. For women, we need to know that whoever our insurer is, these needs will be covered.”
The bill has met resistance. Oregon Right to Life PAC (Political Action Committee), which supports pro-life candidates for state and federal office, firmly opposes Senate Bill 894, which would omit text in the current legislation regarding religious exemption.
They claim the bill would require all insurers and employers to pay for surgical abortions, including churches and religious institutions.
Liberty Pike, communication director at Right to Life PAC, said there are a variety of insurance policies in the state that already cover women’s reproductive health, including abortion.
“The specific problem with Senate Bill 894 is that it would force a religious organization to violate its deeply held, long-taught beliefs,” Pike explained. “I think widely in Oregon people agree that churches should be allowed to be exempt from these types of mandates. Senate Bill 894 is a run around to try to force them to violate their consciences.”
Oregon Family Council has also released a statement against the bill. “Requiring a church to pay for abortion coverage is an outrageous attack on religious liberty,” they have stated.
The Senate would vote on the Comprehensive Women’s Health Bill in April.
Without Oregon’s existing publicly supported family planning services, the state’s rates of unintended pregnancy, unplanned birth and abortion would be 83 percent higher, while the teen pregnancy rate would be 94 percent higher, according the bill’s supporting facts.
“These are serious pocket-book issues and they have lasting implications,” said Aimee Santos-Lyons. “We don’t talk about reproductive health care as if it’s an economic security issue, and we know that it is.”
Related Slideshow: Oregon Health Data Breaches
The following are health data breach reports from Oregon as listed on the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights website.
As required by section 13402(e)(4) of the HITECH Act, the Secretary must post a list of breaches of unsecured protected health information affecting 500 or more individuals. These breaches are now posted in a new, more accessible format that allows users to search and sort the posted breaches. Additionally, this new format includes the names of private practice providers who have reported breaches of unsecured protected health information to the Secretary.
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