Health insurance is consistently viewed through the lens of political and religious strife and Providence College is no exception. Birth control is not covered under the Providence College student and faculty health insurance policy, according to anonymous first-hand testimony. Even though the Affordable Care Act requires most employers and health insurance companies to provide such coverage, an exemption for religious employers and institutions has expanded in recent years, giving these organizations more influence over the services they choose to cover.
The College’s policy clearly states exclusions for elective abortion, which at least makes students aware that they are responsible for those costs. However, the policy does not explicitly have an exclusion for birth control, even though the personal experience of students and staff reveals that implicitly, birth control is not covered.
Instead, the College’s policy states coverage excludes “treatment, service or supply which is not Medically Necessary for the diagnosis, care or Treatment of the sickness or injury involved. This applies even if they are prescribed, recommended or approved by the Student Health Center or by Your attending Physician.” In essence, the College-sponsored policy can ignore a medical professional’s recommendation and refuse to cover the expenses associated with any treatment it deems unnecessary, which goes beyond contraceptive access. Unfortunately, this type of stipulation is not unique to the College, but that does not diminish its consequences.
Other Catholic institutions of higher education do provide birth control coverage under student health plans. Boston College covers all methods of contraception that are FDA approved under its student policy. Georgetown University’s student health insurance policy through UnitedHealthcare allows students to receive coverage for contraceptive services through the health insurance policy provider, but the University does not fund this coverage. While institutions can educate students about their traditions and values, one must question if imposing these norms is the proper course of action.
With menstrual conditions disproportionately impacting young women, a study from the Guttmacher Institute finds that 82 percent of people ages 15 through 19 are more likely to use contraceptive treatment for non-contraceptive purposes than pregnancy prevention alone. Given the discomfort that common conditions such as PMS and endometriosis inflict upon people with periods, birth control should be covered so students can follow their daily routines without disruption. However, if the College policy does not provide coverage despite its lack of clarity, a menstrual leave policy like the one introduced in Spain should be developed so students can be excused from class during menstruation.
Understanding the off-label purposes of birth control treatments helps to create a culture of compassion and openness surrounding the topic. Menstrual cycles vary from person to person, but for some symptoms can be quite disruptive. Many women suffer from endometriosis and irregular cycles, which are easily alleviated with birth control treatments. Contraceptives are associated with a decreased risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers in women, as well as reduced chances of developing pelvic inflammatory disease. Birth control can also treat anemia and iron deficiency, which allows people to live healthy lives with balanced diets. If a student’s healthcare provider sees the benefits of pursuing this treatment, the College should not impose a financial burden on a student who already pays tuition each year.
Ultimately, this debate fundamentally examines whether institutions, such as employers, schools, and the government should be making healthcare decisions for patients. For some students, birth control coverage is about avoiding extreme pain every month, not challenging the College’s Catholic values. Regardless of the official policy, students should not have to guess when it comes to health insurance coverage.