April 23, 2014 — A strong majority of U.S. residents favor a requirement that health plans cover contraceptives, according to a research letter published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Los Angeles Times' "Science Now" reports (Kaplan, "Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 4/22).
Under federal rules being implemented through the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), most insurers are required to offer contraceptive coverage in their employer-sponsored health plans. Houses of worship are exempt from the requirement, and religiously affiliated not-for-profits are eligible for an accommodation that ensures they do not have to pay for or directly provide the coverage to their employees (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/15).
The rules have prompted lawsuits from religiously affiliated groups and private businesses, including a case involving the arts-and-crafts retail chain Hobby Lobby that has reached the Supreme Court.
For the study, University of Michigan researchers surveyed 2,124 adults in November.
They found that 1,452 (69%) agreed with the statement that "health plans in the United States should be required to include coverage" for "birth control medications." Among the other respondents, 436 (19%) did not agree, 197 (10%) were uncertain and 39 (2%) declined to answer ("Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 4/22).
Support was "significantly higher ... among women, black, and Hispanic respondents," the researchers wrote (Fox, NBC News, 4/22). Parents with children under age 18 also expressed high levels of support.
The survey also asked respondents about requiring coverage for other types of services, such as vaccines and mental health care.
Support for the other categories of coverage was even higher than contraceptive coverage, with large majorities backing mandatory coverage of mammograms and colonoscopies (85%), vaccines (84%), cholesterol and diabetes screenings (82%), mental health care (77%), and dental care (75%).
However, 7.8% of respondents said employer-sponsored health plans should be required to cover everything on the list except contraceptives. The researchers said people in this group tended to be male, older than age 60 and not residing with children under age 18. In general, this group "included a higher proportion of persons unlikely to use [contraceptive] coverage," the researchers noted ("Science Now," Los Angeles Times, 4/22).