Gov. Larry Hogan, center, with supporters signing one of 196 bills into law. (Photo courtesy of the Executive of the Governor)
On Tuesday, Gov. Larry Hogan signed 196 bills into law. One of those was the Contraceptive Equity Act, which will make birth control more affordable and accessible to Maryland residents.
Maryland’s insurance companies will now cover all forms of over-the-counter birth control and male vasectomies. Along with reducing the cost of contraception by removing copayments, the act makes it easier to obtain contraception as well. Women can now receive their birth control for up to six months at a time, and a prescription is no longer necessary to receive over the counter birth control. The bill also removed preapproval requirements for long-term reversible contraception including the implant and the intrauterine device (IUD).
The bill, which will go into effect in January 2018, expands on the policies in the Affordable Care Act which require insurance companies nationwide to offer at least one type of birth control without a co-payment. The Contraceptive Equity Act goes even further by requiring all forms of birth control to be covered solely by insurance.
Reproductive rights are often seen as a women’s issue, but the measure allows men to be more involved in family planning by removing the copayment for male vasectomies.
“For the first time ever, men are included in these contraception laws,” said Karen J. Nelson, president and CEO Planned Parenthood of Maryland. “The modern guy knows that he has a role in reproductive rights.”
Maryland’s bill also covers the morning-after pill, making Maryland the first state to require insurance companies to include emergency contraception. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2006 and 2010 about one in nine sexually experienced women between the ages of 15 and 44 have used emergency contraception. Rather than paying $25 to $60, women can now get Plan B without a prescription or a copayment.
While residents won’t pay for birth control out of their own pockets, the contraceptives are not entirely free. Some worry that insurance companies will raise their rates to compensate for the lack of copayments.
Brian Griffiths, co-founder of the conservative network Maryland Red and co-host of Red Maryland Radio said he is worried about the economic impact of this decision. “It’s going to drive the cost of insurance up. Health insurance is already not affordable,” said Griffiths.
Griffiths was also concerned about the bill conflicting with conservative values. He suggested that people who are not sexually active or do not believe in contraception will be at an “economic disadvantage” because they are paying higher insurance rates for something that they don’t believe in. Religious organizations are exempt from including these policies in their employee insurance plans.
The bill will apply to all insurance plans statewide including Care First Blue Shield, a company with about 2.1 million consumers. The policies will also be enforced for Medicaid, a federal state insurance program for low-income citizens.
“The state of Maryland is going to protect women and make sure residents in this area will have access to health care,” said Nelson.