On birth control, Kitzhaber is a champion for all Oregon women

By Michele Stranger Hunter of Portland, Oregon. Michele is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon.

Last week, the National Women's Health Network, a national organization committed to advancing women's health, praised Governor John Kitzhaber saying, "Policymakers like Governor Kitzhaber make a real difference in the lives of women."

This is a huge deal.

The National Women’s Health Network was referring to the fact that Governor Kitzhaber is the first Governor in the country to take a public stand in support of women’s access to all FDA approved birth control methods without any out-of-pocket cost. This means all private and public health plans must fully cover, with no cost-sharing, all FDA approved forms of birth control. You might think that this was already guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act, and that insurance carriers should already be covering all FDA approved forms of birth control. But, this just is not the case. The reality is, not all insurance plans have been covering all birth control methods 100%. And unfortunately, no other governor or insurance commissioner is publicly enforcing what was clearly intended in the ACA.

Women across the country are being denied their preferred birth control method, despite the Affordable Care Act’s stipulation. Health providers’ complaints, that the birth control method most appropriate for their patients was not being covered by her insurance, were ignored. Insurance companies are finding ways to get around the birth control coverage required by the ACA. Women have been telling their stories, advocates have been challenging the insurance companies, but no one had taking action.

NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon decided to check into women’s access to birth control in Oregon. Over the past six months we heard women’s complaints, we conducted "secret shopper” calls to health insurance companies and completed an analysis of carriers’ prescription formularies. What we found was disturbing. The vast majority of insurance companies were not following the policy set in place by the ACA. We presented these findings to the Oregon Insurance Commissioner and the Governor’s office.

Governor Kitzhaber took action. Even while other progressive governors have shied away from the potential controversy over birth control coverage, Governor Kitzhaber had the courage to stand up and do what is right for Oregon women. Governor Kitzhaber is listening and committed to creating greater access to the services women deserve and want. Thanks to his advocacy, by 2015 all Oregon insurance carriers must fully cover with no cost-sharing all FDA approved forms of birth control.

This is good news for Oregon, but sadly, this kind of advocacy for women’s health is rare - especially among governors. Governor Kitzhaber has been a champion for women’s reproductive health throughout his career and consistently blocked legislation attacking women’s reproductive rights. His opponent for this midterm election, Dennis Richardson, was one of only nine House members to vote against a bill requiring insurance companies to cover birth control at all. We all know about Richardson’s letter to The Oregonian, where he actually said that “a woman relinquishes her unfettered right to control her own body when her actions cause the conception of a baby.”

This election is so important. Governor Kitzhaber works on issues that matter to women and protect women's rights. In a climate where women’s rights are being pushed back decades across the country, Oregon’s governor is taking a stand to stop it. National women’s rights organizations are praising Governor Kitzhaber’s advocacy work for women. I urge all Oregonians to take notice of who is working for women’s rights and vote. Let’s make sure we keep him in office.

Oregon women need 4 more years of John Kitzhaber.

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