Long before Carly Fiorina ran her own unsuccessful Senate campaign in California, she rode shotgun on a number of occasions for John McCain when he was stumping for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008. She represented McCain's attempt to gain the "women's vote" in his pre -Palin days, and to her credit, Fiorina often went where no man dared to go.
The most notable example occurred when a reporter asked McCain about insurance companies that cover Viagra but not birth control. The Republican presidential candidate responded with "I certainly do not want to discuss that issue," while Fiorina, sitting a few seats away, was quoted by an AP reporter as saying, "I've been hearing a lot about from women: There are many health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won't cover birth-control medication. Those women would like a choice."
My, oh my. The times they are a-changin'...and one major health care policy change announced Monday means that no beleaguered male politician will ever have to stumble over that uncomfortable question again. (How much more pleasant the 2012 election cycle will be because of it.)
While everybody was up in arms and distracted by the partisan 'debt ceiling' battle, a small victory for women snuck in through the back door as the Department of Health and Human Services released new guidelines for the health insurance industry. Starting August 1, 2011, women with insurance coverage in the US will no longer have to pay a single red cent for birth control prescriptions (or any form of FDA-approved contraception) thanks to an extension of basic care for women that includes a broader definition of 'preventive services.'
This was one of eight major changes in the new HHS guidelines, but it's the provision that's drawn the most attention and ire from -- predictably -- religious groups opposed to birth control and the conservative wing of the GOP.
It's a much-appreciated gift to women from a president who declared himself pro-choice during his campaign for the Oval Office and understands that without access to affordable family planning services and birth control methods, women will find themselves facing unintended pregnancies.
Sexually active women who are responsible enough to seek out ways to prevent pregnancy that involve visits to a health care professional's office should be applauded and supported. They're taking control of their lives and not relying on their partners to carry a condom, or putting their trust in less effective over-the-counter contraceptives for women, or forgoing contraception entirely. But if there's a co-pay of $5-50 for one month of birth control pills, there will always be those who say, "I can't afford that."
Now the Obama administration has made contraception affordable to every woman who is insured. Instead of fighting a policy that makes sense, both sides should support this positive move in the direction of ending unwanted pregnancies through prevention, not abortion. It's a smart one that's cost effective and long overdue.
And as women have pondered for years, if an insurance company can cover Viagra, why not birth control?
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