Earlier this week, the Institute of Medicine recommended that critical preventative sexual health services be fully covered under health care reform. The recommendation – if adopted – will ensure cost-free access to contraceptives, STD tests, and breastfeeding supplies for those with private insurance. As teen health advocates, we see this as a possible game-changer in the world of adolescent health!
Here’s why we need to see the IOM’s recommendations become the law of the land…
If adopted: We’ll see fewer teen pregnancies.
The biggest barrier to contraceptive access – and thus use – has always been cost. Even with insurance, birth control pills can cost as much as $80/month. Long-acting reversible contraceptives, while cheaper in the long run, cost hundreds up front.
We believe strongly in personal responsibility and we think personal responsibility should be the expected norm. That means going to the doctor and getting a prescription and taking that prescription as prescribed. We also know that many families have to make tough financial choices, and prescriptions are often given the ax when money’s tight. Not good for something that only works when taken consistently and correctly.
Decreasing the financial burden of using contraceptives has time and again been shown to lower incidences of teen pregnancy, as well as all possible outcomes – teen births, teen miscarriages, and teen abortions. The federal Title X program, which provides contraceptives to low-income women at health departments and (until this year) Planned Parenthood clinics, has suppressed North Carolina’s teen pregnancy rate by 32%. That’s right: we’d have 32% more teen pregnancies without Title X – and that’s just contraceptive access for low-income women.
The IOM recommendation extends an unprecedented level of contraceptive affordability to women with private insurance.And lest you complain about the government dictating what private insurance offer, North Carolina has had a coverage equality law on the books since 1999. (This means a policy that covers any prescription drugs must cover contraceptives and any policy that covers outpatient treatment must cover gynecological services.)
If adopted: More children of teen parents will get a healthy start.
The IOM also recommended coverage of breastfeeding support and supplies. Breastfeeding is unfortunately treated as an upper-class luxury in the U.S. Access to breastfeeding support has long been an afterthought for teen parents. (After all, why would we hold them to a parenting gold standard when we place so much emphasis on how they’ve “ruined their lives”?) Can you imagine a 15-year old trying to pump at 11:15am like clockwork in a girls bathroom stall at school? Much less pay $250 for the pump when she can barely afford diapers. Research clearly supports breastfeeding as a healthy choice for parents to make. Giving teen parents the ability and support to make this choice will benefit overall child health in this state.
Teen moms will also gain the ability to delay subsequent births, positively impacting their own health and their child’s health. Nearly 30% of teen births in North Carolina are to a teen who already has at least one baby. Research tells us the outcomes both mother and child(ren) are drastically harmed if she has more children at a young age. Furthermore, an increasing body of research recommends spacing births for all women. We expect contraceptive coverage to help teen parents keep their young families on a path to a healthier future.
If adopted: We’ll help more teens get out of dangerous relationships and learn how to build healthy ones.
One final great-for-teens IOM recommendation is coverage of counseling and screening for abusive relationships. Young love is often fraught. But there is a clear line between a bad boyfriend and an abusive one. And, teens are at as especially vulnerable developmental stage where they simultaneously place an extreme emphasis on romantic relationships and place importance on the correctness of their own ideas. (That’s the nice way of saying they’re rebellious and they believe they’re experiencing the greatest love of all time. You did that too.) Point is, parents, friends, and teachers trying to help a young person in an abusive relationship need all the help they can get. The IOM recommendation would offer that.
The IOM recommendations are only recommendations now – not law. Anti-contraception advocates are working hard to convince HHS not to accept them even though contraceptive access and use is supported by the majority of people of allpolitical affiliations, genders, and religions. 99% of all women in the U.S. have used contraceptives at some point. 100% of us – women and men alike – have benefited from that use. We all need this to become law. Teens need this to become law.
In order for the IOM recommendations to become law, though, they need a thumbs-up from Health and Human Services and the White House. Contact them today either on your own or using this handy petition from our friends at Advocates for Youth.