House lawmakers reintroduce bill that would boost access to contraception for military families
WASHINGTON — Rep. Jackie Speier on Tuesday led a group of House lawmakers to reintroduce legislation that would allow anyone who receives health care through the military to access all forms of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraception without additional costs.
The bill from Speier, D-Calif., would ensure non-active-duty service members, including those in the Reserve, National Guard, inactive reservists, retirees and their dependents can access a wide-range of coverage without a copay, including FDA-approved contraception, counseling, and insertion and removal services.
“Our military families should not have fewer rights than those they serve to protect. Access to basic, preventive health care, including contraception and family planning counseling, is critical to troop readiness, well-being, and equality,” said Speier, who is the chairwoman of the military personnel subpanel of the House Armed Services Committee.
Full coverage is afforded now to active-duty service members under the military’s Tricare program and the civilian population under the Affordable Care Act. However, service members not on active-duty and their dependents often face financial barriers to obtaining contraception outside of military medical treatment facilities due to out-of-pocket costs.
Democratic Reps. Veronica Escobar of Texas and Marilyn Strickland of Washington, both members of the House Armed Services Committee, are helping to push the bill, which has 102 cosponsors in the House. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., also reintroduced companion legislation in the Senate on Tuesday.
Ninety-five percent of women who serve in the military are of reproductive age, according to Speier’s office, which includes all women ages 15 to 49. The Tricare program covered more than 1.5 million women of reproductive age in 2019, including spouses and dependents of active-duty members, the congresswoman’s office said.
Family planning can boost overall readiness and the quality of life of members of the military, according to the bill. Studies have also shown patients are more likely to use contraception if cost barriers are removed, which lowers the risk of unintended pregnancy.
Unintended pregnancy is more prevalent among service members than the civilian population, according to a 2017 study from Ibis Reproductive Health, a nonprofit organization that conducts research on sexual and reproductive health.
The study, which examined the impacts of unintended pregnancy on the armed forces, also found the large number of unintended pregnancies among service women each year likely has a significant impact on military operations and troop readiness. However, public data on the subject is limited, according to the report.
That’s why a measure authored by Speier in the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act requires the Defense Department issue a report on barriers that service members face to access contraception and how the department has implemented new requirements on reproductive health care. That report is expected to be released by about June 1, according to Speier’s office.
Speier’s “Access to Contraception for Servicemembers and Dependents Act” would also enshrine into law that sexual assault survivors can access emergency contraception and requires the information individuals receive is easy to understand.
The Defense Department already has a policy in support of this, but Speier’s proposal would make the right to contraception a law.
Under the bill, the Defense Department also would be required to develop a comprehensive family planning education program that acts as a standard across all the military services, which does not exist now among all services.
A uniform standard curriculum would include information about how to make informed decisions related to family planning, prevention of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and the positive impact family planning can have on military readiness.
The education program would also ensure service members know what methods of contraception are available to them and where they can access it.
The bill was first introduced in 2014, and the full measure was passed by the House in 2019 as part of the fiscal year 2020 NDAA. However, it faced pushback in the Senate, which was controlled by the Republicans at the time.
Several health organizations endorsed Speier’s bill, including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a nonprofit that provides sexual health care across the globe, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, a global legal advocacy organization that seeks to advance reproductive rights.
“It’s unacceptable that some members of our military and their family members are saddled with out-of-pocket expenses for contraception, while patients in the commercial insurance market are guaranteed access to contraception without cost-sharing,” Shaheen said in a prepared statement.