When a female reporter from the Los Angeles Times asked Sen. John McCain why many health-insurance plans cover Viagra but not contraceptives, even his many years of interview experience seemed unable to lead him to an answer. The presumptive Republican nominee could not recall how he voted on the subject - a mystery soon solved by his questioner: He voted against it.
However, more illuminating than McCain's answer, or lack thereof, is the reporter's follow up: "These women would like a choice." Clearly, despite its obvious benefits, the importance of extending insurance coverage to contraceptives has yet to be recognized by many of those in power. But, this coverage is essential if we wish to ensure both sexes pay an equal amount for health care. As such, legislative measures should be taken to mandate this coverage nationwide.
ABC news reported last month that women spend about two-thirds more on health-care items not covered by insurance than do men, and contraception is thought to be a major contributor to that disparity. Furthermore, in addition to being much cheaper than most prescription medicines, it can be argued that contraceptives create major cost savings in the future. That is, by helping to prevent future pregnancies, contraceptives drastically reduce spending from on those pregnancy-related expenses that must otherwise be paid by insurance carriers. Some forms of birth control even help to improve other health and body issues, such as acne.
Of course, not all women are left to pay for birth control without the assistance of health insurance. As it currently stands, 27 states require health-insurance companies to provide at least some coverage of FDA-approved contraceptives. However, many of these states have very restrictive conditions on who is actually able to receive coverage for contraceptives. And only those insurers that also cover prescription drugs are made to follow any of these mandates. However, as McCain's interrogation made clear, the majority of health-insurance plans still cover such drugs as Viagra - medicines used to treat erectile dysfunction or impotence.
To explain their position, those who oppose the idea of granting coverage to contraception note that a very high percentage of adult women take birth control. Men, they argue, are not associated with such a widespread health supplement. But any such arguments also neglect to notice the price difference between common contraceptives and various male products. At well under $20 a month, certain generic birth controls appear to be cheap enough to make their prevalence relatively unproblematic. And, given the extent to which birth control helps prevent unwanted pregnancies, it seems we would do well to think of their coverage as an investment rather than a sex-specific expense.
The discomfort and uncertainty of McCain is astoundingly fitting for a disparity in health coverage so pronounced that few can make sense of it. While men receive coverage for all their most common health needs, women are often prevented from receiving it for even the most fundamental purpose. As such, it is imperative that all insurance carriers are made to extend coverage to birth control. And, given contraception's potential to reduce future costs, it would seem to be a price well worth paying.