Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed a bill into law Tuesday yielding the most expansive insurance coverage for contraception in the country. By eliminating most co-pays and all prescriptions for birth control, demanding coverage for up to 13 months of birth control at a time, and shedding costs for vasectomies, the law pushes Maryland to the forefront of the national movement to expand contraception access.
“Family planning is essential for women’s rights and cost is a factor in family planning,” said state Delegate Ariana Kelly, who sponsored the House bill. “This legislation is going to help eliminate barriers and reduce costs for women and for men.”
Unlike insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act, which already covers co-pay costs for prescription birth control, the Maryland law also requires state health insurance plans to cover vasectomies, the morning-after pill, and non-generic birth control drugs that may offer less side effects. It’s the first law in the country to demand this kind of expansive coverage from insurers.
Dubbed the “Contraceptive Equity Act,” the law won’t go into effect into 2018 — but is already making waves. According to Karen Nelson, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, “Maryland is on the forefront across the board with this act.”
Though Maryland’s law had bipartisan support in the state, some conservatives argued that contraception isn’t a health care priority, citing their religious beliefs.
“The Catholic Church is not in favor of artificial birth control or in vitro fertilization,” said Republican Sen. Ed Reilly. “But health insurance is supposed to be designed to treat sickness or illness. Vasectomies and birth control aren’t either. You’re interrupting a normal healthy program that a person goes through.”
On a national level, the conflict between conservative religious beliefs and women’s access to birth control has been contentious. Religious groups, and even some secular for-profit companies run by religious CEOs, have fought for the right to deny insurance coverage of contraception — an issue that’s wound its way up to the Supreme Court.
GOP lawmakers in Maryland also argued that the cost of covering contraception will hurt state insurers. But according to Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland insurance companies found that the cost to the system would ultimately decrease with the new law in effect.
While Maryland’s law remains the most comprehensive in bolstering contraception access, it’s not the first state to begin shedding restrictions. In January, women in Oregon were granted the right to pick up birth control pills at a pharmacy without a prescription from a doctor. California enacted the same law last month. Many others have similar legislation on the table — but the inching progress is hard to compare to Maryland’s quick leap forward.
“Many other states are implementing piecemeal provisions, but there’s nothing as comprehensive as this act,” said Planned Parenthood’s Nelson.
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