March 6, 2015 — Three senators on Thursday introduced legislation called the 21st Century Women's Health Act, which aims to ensure access to women's health services and improve care, Yahoo! Health reports.
Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced the measure on a press call (Gerson Uffalussy, Yahoo! Health, 3/5).
Bill Details: Contraceptive Coverage, Access to Emergency Contraception for Sexual Assault Survivors
The bill would require Medicaid to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods without cost-sharing by beneficiaries (Ferris, The Hill, 3/5). Federal guidance on the contraceptive coverage rules under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) states that most private insurers must cover the full range of FDA-approved methods without cost sharing (Women's Health Policy Report, 9/19/14). However, the ACA does not have the same requirement for Medicaid (Yahoo! Health, 3/5).
In addition, the bill would ensure that all survivors of sexual assault can receive no-cost emergency contraception when they seek treatment at a hospital or clinic (Song, Seattle Times, 3/5). The legislation also would help ensure that survivors receive factual information about EC when they seek treatment in a hospital emergency department. Further, the legislation would ensure women at higher education institutions have access to EC, as well as support higher education educational programs designed to help prevent sexual assault.
According to Yahoo! Health, only 13 states and Washington, D.C., require emergency departments to provide sexual assault survivors with EC upon request (Yahoo! Health, 3/5).
Ensuring Right to Reproductive Health Services
The bill also would create a "women's health ombudsperson" whose job would be to help protect access to women's health services. For example, the individual would be tasked with helping to enforce the federal requirement that insurers cover preventive care, such as breastfeeding counseling, mammograms and screenings for domestic violence, with no cost-sharing (Seattle Times, 3/5).
The legislation would also task HHS with conducting a women's health study every five years and reporting the findings to Congress. Specifically, the study would look at the effect of state antiabortion-rights laws and geographic regions that have limited access to family planning services, including economic effects and the impact on maternal deaths.
In addition, the bill would require every state to create a "Maternal Mortality Review Committee" tasked with addressing and assessing disparities and other factors that contribute to maternal deaths. According to Yahoo! Health, stakeholders could then use the information to craft solutions to make sure women have pregnancy experiences that are as safe as possible (Yahoo! Health, 3/5).
Further, the legislation would establish training programs designed for women's health nurse practitioners (Seattle Times, 3/5).
Murray said the legislation would help more women "to be in the driver's seat about their own health care" (The Hill, 3/5).
She added that the bill would help "fight back against those who miss that Mad Men era" (Yahoo! Health, 3/5). She specifically called out lawmakers whom she said "are dead set on interfering with personal decisions that should be made between a woman, her doctor and her partner."
Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said in a statement that the bill "would promote prevention and make it possible for more women to control their reproductive health and make their own health care decisions." She said the group is "especially pleased that it would study the ways restrictions on access to reproductive health services, including abortion, harm women. Understanding and reversing that trend [of restrictions] is critically important if we are serious about improving women's health in this country" (National Partnership release, 3/5).
Laurel Kuehl, Washington state medical director for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, said in reference to the bill's provisions on contraceptive access that "[a]ccess to reliable contraception is a health issue, as well as an economic issue for women and their families" (Seattle Times, 3/5).
Boxer described the bill as "a bold agenda to strengthen women's health in this century." Murray added, "I do know there are those who are going to say no [to voting for the bill] right off the bat. That will not stop me" (The Hill, 3/5).