Nearly 7 in 10 Americans say health plans should cover birth control

Nearly 7 in 10 Americans say health plans should cover birth control
People in favor of the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate express their support at the U.S. Supreme Court in March. A new poll finds 69% of Americans agree with them. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg)

Among the various provisions of the Affordable Care Act, few are as controversial as the one requiring health insurance providers to include coverage for contraception. A new survey finds that support for this rule is widespread, with 69% of Americans in favor of the mandate.

Among 2,124 adults surveyed in November 2013, 1,452 agreed that "health plans in the United States should be required to include coverage" for "birth control medications," according to a research letter published online Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. An additional 436 respondents (19%) did not agree, 197 (10%) were uncertain and 39 (2%) refused to answer.


Women, African Americans, Latinos and parents living with children under the age of 18 had higher levels of support for mandatory contraception coverage than people in other demographic groups, the survey found. People who took the survey were not asked about their political or religious views.

A 69% approval rating may sound high for anything connected to Obamacare. (A Pew Research Center survey released in March found that only 41% of the public approved of the law on its fourth anniversary, compared with 53% who disapproved.) But all of the other services asked about in the JAMA report were more popular than birth control. To wit:

-- 85% of those surveyed supported mandatory coverage for mammograms and colonoscopies.

-- 84% supported mandatory coverage for recommended vaccines.

-- 82% were in favor of mandatory coverage for diabetes and cholesterol screening tests.

-- 77% backed the provision on mandatory coverage for mental health care.

-- 75% supported mandatory coverage of dental care, including routine cleanings.

Indeed, 7.8% of those surveyed said they thought employers who offered health insurance should be required to cover every item on the list except for birth control. Folks in this category were more likely to be male, over the age of 60 and not be living with kids under the age of 18, according to the JAMA report. The study authors noted that this group "included a higher proportion of persons unlikely to use such coverage."

The survey was conducted by three researchers from the University of Michigan and was funded by the U-M Health System and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Americans opposed to mandatory contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act may be a minority, but they are a vocal one. Objections from nonprofit religious charities led to a compromise in which the Obama administration said they are not required to offer coverage for birth control. As part of the deal, hospitals, universities and other organizations run by religious nonprofits can opt out and allow their employees to obtain contraceptives directly from health insurance carriers.

Employers in the for-profit world have challenged the contraceptive mandate as well. Last month, lawyers for Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that the craft store chain should not be forced to pay for birth control that violate the religious beliefs of the evangelical Christian family that controls the company. The court's conservative majority seemed inclined to agree, according to my colleague David Savage. A decision in the case is expected by the end of June.

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