Insurance Must Cover FDA-Approved Contraception, and Women’s Health Will Be Better for It

Dr. Nancy StanwoodThe Affordable Care Act has proven critical in improving women’s health, and in particular the provision that requires insurance companies cover birth control without a copay. However, recent studies have demonstrated that many insurers are not following the letter of the law. That is why we applaud today’s announcement by the Obama Administration issuing guidance for insurers on contraceptive coverage, requiring that at least one of each 18 distinct birth control methods must be covered by all insurance plans.

Our board chair Dr. Nancy Stanwood said: “Today’s announcement by the Administration says loud and clear that plans must cover the full range of contraceptive methods, and women’s health will be better for it.”

Read the rest of her statement here

Dr. Lonna Gordon: Happy Mother’s Day to Young Mothers Everywhere

Dr. Lonna GordonLonna Gordon, MD, PharmD, is a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City. She is a Leadership Training Academy fellow.

It is a bright spring day and I am headed to meet a friend at the park. A woman passing me on the street smiles at me and says, “Happy Mother’s Day!” I am not a mother, but after many Mother’s Days, as a “true adult” I have learned it is just easier to smile and offer a polite “Thank You” to well-wishers. Moreover, as a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine I am a caretaker of hundreds of children, so perhaps I exude motherly qualities.

Later that week I see one of my patients, a young mother whom I will call Shannon, in my exam room and ask her how her Mother’s Day was.

“Ok,” she replies.

“Just ok?” I prod. “Did you do anything special?  Have a nice meal?  Get flowers or a card?”

“No,” she says with a sigh, “It was just another day.”

I change the subject, and soon we are discussing how to potty train her son and prepare him for the new baby expected in a few months. I check in on how many semesters she has left at the local community college and tell Shannon how proud I am that she is pursuing her educational goals. However, as I move through the rest of my day I can’t help but feel sad for her. How terrible it must feel as a mother to have no one acknowledge your hard work and accomplishments, especially on Mother’s Day!

In my practice at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City, I work every day with a multidisciplinary team to provide vital, comprehensive adolescent health care that emphasizes confidentiality and support for whatever happens in our patients’ lives. We empower young people to make responsible choices concerning their reproductive health. While access to comprehensive sex education and contraception are absolutely important, this is only one part of the solution. When those approaches fail and one of my patients becomes pregnant, I support her no matter what she decides. If she makes the deeply personal choice to become a parent, I support her.

So while I provide the full range of contraceptive care, I also care for teenage parents and their children and I support them in their efforts to be excellent parents and raise healthy kids. At the Center, I am able to provide these services free of charge, and without judgment.

Our culture frequently sends the message to young parents that they are irresponsible and a burden to society. We tell them they are too young to parent, won’t be able to do it well, and that their lives and dreams are over when they have a child.  We marginalize and stigmatize them.

But what would happen if instead we—doctors, teachers, social workers, society—gave them support? We know that when young people are healthy in mind and body, they can make it in this world. What if we taught them good parenting skills? What if we encouraged their educational goals and dreams? What if we ensured they had secure housing, reliable child-care and nutritious food? What if we equipped them with the knowledge and resources for planning their next pregnancy?

Young mothers want the same things for their children that all mothers want. They want to do a good job. They work at balancing parenting with their many other personal responsibilities. They want their kids to be happy, healthy, and successful. They need to feel supported as they do their best in such a meaningful role.

As a doctor, I am in a privileged position. I get to see tangible results of what young mothers achieve when they are supported. They are happy and well adjusted. They finish high school. They go to college. They get jobs. Their kids are healthy and meet their developmental milestones. They learn how to co-parent with their child’s father or other extended family members.

A year has passed and Shannon is the mother of two and just three months away from finishing her associate’s degree. My hope for her this Mother’s Day is that she experiences a holiday where she is celebrated and validated. So to Shannon, and all the young moms reading this who may feel forgotten or undervalued: I believe in you and I wish you a Happy Mother’s Day!

Crossposted on Feministing 

Dr. Lisa Hofler: “My Patients Need and Deserve Health Care Coverage”

Lisa Hofler, MD, MPH, is a current Leadership Training Academy Fellow practicing in the southeastern U.S.

Lisa Hofler MDAs an obstetrician-gynecologist, I am proud to support the Health Equity and Access under the Law (HEAL) for Immigrant Women and Families Act of 2015, legislation that would restore health care coverage for many of my patients. For nearly two decades, politicians have enacted restrictive policies that prevent immigrants from accessing affordable health coverage. The HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act, reintroduced in Congress by Rep. Lujan Grisham this week, would among other things restore access to health care programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program for immigrants who are authorized to live and work in the U.S.

The current legal and policy barriers to affordable health coverage disproportionately harm immigrant women. Working in a large safety-net hospital in the Southeast, I regularly see immigrant patients who are pregnant and have not received adequate prenatal care. Certainly there are a number of possible individual reasons for not seeking this care, from language barriers to logistical barriers in finding time and a means to travel to a health clinic. But most definitely, lack of health insurance is a significant barrier preventing many women—pregnant or not—from seeking the health care they need.

For example, there are pregnant women whose first visit to a health care provider is a month before their due date—their concern for the health of their pregnancy outweighing the worry about the prohibitive cost of care. In some cases, they have gestational diabetes, a common condition that is easily diagnosed and treated during the course of routine prenatal care. But because they miss the screening for this condition, they also miss most of the benefits of treating their diabetes early on.

Other times, the first care my patients receive is when they arrive at the hospital in preterm labor. In some of these instances, without access to affordable contraception, their second pregnancy followed rapidly after their first. A short interval between pregnancies and lack of prenatal care can put women at risk for many complications, such anemia and preterm labor, resulting in prolonged hospitalization; and for their babies, prematurity, low birthweight, and a resulting long NICU stay.

Access to affordable, timely, and comprehensive contraceptive, prenatal, and postnatal care is essential to reduce unintended pregnancies, pregnancy complications, and maternal mortality. And when mothers are healthy, the whole family is healthier.

Denying immigrant women and families health coverage doesn’t eliminate their need for health care. It just creates worse health outcomes that often could have been prevented with access to affordable health care. The good news is that our lawmakers in Congress can do something about this: show their commitment to improving health care access for immigrant communities by cosponsoring the HEAL for Immigrant Women and Families Act. 

Physicians: Become Advocates for Reproductive Health!

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It has been an incredibly enriching and inspiring experience participate in the Leadership Training Academy, to work with a diverse group of doctors who share the common passion of reproductive health access for our patients. I’ve gained skills and confidence in being an advocate, but the camaraderie and community-building is what has been the most rewarding for me. — Dr. Lin-Fan Wang, Class of 2013

The Physicians for Reproductive Health Leadership Training Academy prepares physicians to become lifelong leaders in reproductive health care advocacy by helping them develop and internalize the skills and attributes they need to be powerful, effective advocates for comprehensive reproductive and sexual health care. Our leadership training program, which began in 2003, has graduated 10 classes of doctors equipped to advance reproductive and sexual health care in their home institutions and beyond. Applications are now available for the class of 2016.

Read more about the Academy and our fellows’ work as physician-advocates in the media, in Washington, and in the states.

Apply today. Space is limited. Deadline for applications is Friday, June 5, 2015