"You will be a better mom because you are a theologian, and a better theologian because you are a mom."

Is it true? In this blog, I explore the interplay and intersection of motherhood and theologianhood.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Contraception and Health Insurance

Today I read this NPR story entitled "Health Insurance Cutbacks Squeeze the Insured." Although this article made no mention of the HHS mandate regarding contraception free of charge, I couldn't help but muse over the subject once again. The story features a woman named Amber Cooper who had a liver transplant at age 10 and now relies on medicine to prevent her body from rejecting the liver, as well as monthly blood tests to make sure that she's not rejecting the liver. The story recounts how annual changes to health insurance at her work have made her out-of-pocket expenses increase, such that now her family has had to cut down on many expenses (her son only wears hand-me-downs, for example) just so they can afford her medical expenses.

While I don't know Amber personally, I'm sure many of us could name friends or family that have very serious medical conditions, such as diabetes or asthma, that require regular prescription medications. Even with (only) a $20 co-pay, these medications can really add up. But those who purchase them do so because they absolutely need these medicines in order to maintain their (or their children's or spouse's) health. Like the Cooper family, there are many who are forced to choose between health and family vacations... not that this is much of a choice.

This Monday, 43 Catholic institutions filed suits challenging the HHS mandate that would require them (whether directly as employers or indirectly through raised insurance costs) to pay the entire cost for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilizations. Ever since this mandate, I've been both surprised and dismayed about how the argument has been framed as simply a debate about contraception, with many, many attacks on what people view as the Church's seemingly outdated and sexist objections to contraception.

But what I've failed to come across are any really great and convincing arguments about this one particular prescription medication (or, I guess, genre of medications) and why it, in contrast with all the truly necessary medications, should be offered to people free of charge. I noticed that even Fr. John Jenkins, President of the University of Notre Dame, failed to mention in his letter that the main issue is not whether plans should include this coverage, but whether these medications and procedures should be free of charge (as in, paid by the employer).The closest thing I've heard as an argument as to why birth control should be free is various remarks from the Obama administration about how this will "put more change in the pockets of many, many women," in addition to comments here and there by women saying how they'll be grateful to have a few hundred more a year to spend on their kids or whatever. If that in and of itself is supposed to make us satisfied, I'm not convinced. Why should this, of all things, be free of charge to the subscriber?

In contrast with asthma inhalers, insulin, blood pressure medicine, etc, the pill does not in any way aid the natural health of the body. In fact, I think it is the only prescription medication (when used contraceptively, rather than therapeutically, of course) that has as its purpose to corrupt the health of the person who is taking it. And while it is fairly successful at corrupting fertility, it also often corrupts the health beyond fertility, by causing things such as blood clots and the like (conditions that often lead to more unnecessary health care expenditure).

Although I have heard a few heart-wrenching stories about insured, yet relatively poor women, having to make sacrifices to pay for their contraception, my heart really goes out to Amber and people like her. Why should women who choose to corrupt their reproductive health be enabled to do that free of charge, while women like Amber spend $1,500 a month on blood tests and medication that is necessary for sustaining her health and, yes, even her life? No doubt for Amber, the fact  that she can now get contraception for free is of little consolation, given her extreme health expenses elsewhere. Then again, with all those necessary out-of-pocket expenses, she probably won't feel able to afford another child anytime soon. This is especially true since her employer's having to pay for the contraception of all its women employees will most likely raise Amber's costs yet again.

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