Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced a bill on Wednesday that would expand reproductive health-care coverage for women in the military and their families.
The Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2014 would require the military’s TRICARE insurance program to cover contraception for no additional co-pay, just as the civilian population is guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act. The bill would also require the Department of Defense to provide family planning counseling for all servicewomen at specific points during her service.
“Female service members deserve access to the same basic health care as the women they protect, and it’s unacceptable that they don’t,” Shaheen said in a statement.
A report from the Center for American Progress, titled Out of Range, found that servicewomen suffer from 50 percent more unplanned pregnancies than the civilian population, and that sexually transmitted infection rates are seven times higher among military women than civilian women. This is not because servicewomen are less responsible, the authors write, but because of inadequate access to contraception. One-third of servicewomen lack proper access to birth control during their deployment for various reasons, including having too short notice of being deployed.
Active-duty women can get contraception for no co-pay, but only at a military hospital. That forces women not on active duty, as well as female dependents of military servicemembers, to pay out of pocket for their birth control co-pays. TRICARE also doesn’t cover common birth control methods like the vaginal ring and Depo-Provera.
Not addressed in Shaheen’s legislation is military women’s restricted access to abortion care. Abortion is not covered under TRICARE except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment, with no exception for fetal anomalies or health risks. Even if a servicewoman elects to pay for an abortion of pocket, she can’t have one in a military facility, and would have to get permission from her commanding officer to leave the base.
TRICARE also fails to provide equal coverage for men and women because it covers erectile dysfunction drugs while not covering treatment for female sexual dysfunction.
“We applaud Senator Shaheen for introducing this legislation, and for all her hard work to expand access to birth control,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, in a statement. “No woman should have to worry about affording prescription birth control—and the women and families who have served our country in the armed forces should have the same access to no-copay birth control as other American women.”