Recently my personal cyberspace has been inundated with blurbs about the so-called Republican “War on Women,” mostly having to do with a conservative-led challenge to a national mandate that employers with religious objections to contraception and abortion be required to pay for insurance coverage for these services. It’s a genuine Constitutional issue. Freedom of conscience is an important safeguard against steamroller tactics propelling a society towards an enticing but ultimately disastrous trajectory. But somehow the messages that appear on bulletin boards assume that women have a right to compel others to pay for a particular form of contraception, and that this overrides the personal moral qualms of a nontrivial proportion of the population.
I’m skeptical about national grassroots movements. I’m skeptical about the seemingly spontaneous eruptions of political sentiment that occur in blogging networks and social media sites. Most of the people with whom I am connected are educated individuals with relatively high personal ethical standards, but they are not critical enough when it comes to forwarding socio-political messages whose ultimate source is unknown, and they sometimes inadvertently propagate misrepresentations that serve aims and entities far removed from the apparent goals of the campaign.
The issue in the contraceptive insurance debate is not whether women will have access to chemical birth control, but who is going to foot the bill. When chemical contraception first became available, it was generally an out of pocket expense, but in recent years more insurance plans have provided coverage and government subsidies have been available for low income women.
There remains, however, a large population for which contraception is still an out of pocket expense, and this limits what pharmaceutical companies can charge for the product. Jack the price of something up too high, and people will stop buying it – unless there is a pressing need for it and no comparable substitute, or they are addicted to it, or it is paid for by a third party.
The first two conditions clearly do not apply. While no over the counter or behavioral method of birth control entirely matches the convenience and effectiveness of the Pill, some come close. Women do not experience withdrawal symptoms or physical craving when they stop taking hormonal birth control. Consequently, if the pharmaceutical industry is to maximize its profits on what is already a lucrative product line, they need to push the third party angle, lobbying for mandatory insurance coverage for the working population and government subsidies for those in the social welfare system.
There have been a number of instances recently where pharmaceutical companies have manipulated the FDA drug approval process to remove long-established generic drugs from the market, resulting in an order of magnitude increase in the cost of critical medications. Adding drug coverage to Medicare is at least correlated with this trend. The influence of major pharmaceutical companies in the FDA is immense; the public certainly cannot count on the Federal Government to be a neutral party when balancing the overall good against the corporate bottom line.
What is to stop the same thing happening with hormonal birth control? Not Planned Parenthood, which acts as Big Pharma’s chief salesman. Not the medical research community, which is funded by the pharmaceutical companies and the Federal Government and can easily come up with a study demonstrating that a long-established generic product is unsafe compared to a newly patented variant whose clinical history is unknown. To date, efforts through legislation to control medical costs have been woefully ineffective. There is no gatekeeper here.
The Real Cost of Birth Control According to Planned Parenthood hormonal contraception costs between 5 and 60 dollars a month depending on the brand and type of insurance. This is the cost to consumer not the overall cost obviously. Figures in the article do not include the cost of a doctor’s visit required to obtain pills.
A Giant Pain in the Wallet How drug companies are making crucial, common drugs up to 100 times more expensive.
Progestin pills – King County Health Services