The New York Times Upshot blog posted a piece yesterday titled Does Birth Control Coverage Pay for Itself? Maybe Not. The author, Austin Frakt, discusses the common argument that providing contraceptive coverage actually saves insurance companies money in the long term due to the fact that paying for care during and after preganancy and that little thing called birth is pretty darn expensive. He cites a few studies that show that costs to insurers actually rise when birth control coverage is mandated. Then there's this gem to finish the article:
We've gotten used to contraceptive coverage as a legal, religious, and, perhaps, a moral issue. As much as the administration might hope otherwise, for insurers, it seems to be a financial one as well.
Should it matter whether birth control costs an insurer more? No. Because it is medical care, and that is the point of our insurance system- to provide people with a way to pay for medical care without self-insuring (otherwise known as putting money in a savings account and praying it is enough to cover whatever illnesses come your way). You know what's probably not cost effective? Providing any health care at all. It would be wayyy cheaper for insurance companies to take our premiums every month and then deny us any coverage. They would make so much money, pocketing every single dollar like that! But they don't deny every claim ever (although there are plenty of horrible stories out there about insurers denying claims for necessary, life-or-death care), because we are paying for a service and they are providing us that service.
And when we get down to it, I can see this being used by conservatives as just one more reason why employer-provided insurance shouldn't have to cover birth control. Remember the old argument about not providing same-sex partners with benefits because it would cost too much?
ETA: Thank you to bassoonlady for pointing this out, but there is another incredibly important point in the article:
In part because it is so cost-effective, most people are willing to pay for contraception with their own money, if they can afford to. (Many Medicaid-eligible individuals perhaps cannot, but most employed people probably can.) Insurers benefit from this, because every pregnancy avoided is one less they have to pay for.
Therefore, when employer-sponsored insurers pick up the tab for contraception, not very many more pregnancies are avoided — most people were already using and paying for contraception.
So basically, covering birth control actually does save money. Just not the insurer's money. Why pay for it if we are already paying for it ourselves, I guess? Can you imagine any medication that men take, where the argument is "men already pay for this so we shouldn't have to"?
It doesn't matter how much birth control coverage costs. It doesn't matter whether it's used as contraception or to treat a medical issue. We should be able to access it just like we can access any other medical treatment.