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Trump's ACA Rollback Affects Illinoisans Despite Law That Expanded Birth Control Access

Carter Staley
NPR Illinois

The Trump administration earlier this month rolled back birth control provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  The new rules let almost any employer with religious or moral objections to skip rule that contraception coverage had to be provided without co-pays.  

The State of Illinois already passed a law to offer even greater protections than the ACA.  But with the new Trump guidelines not all women in the state can be sure they're covered.  

Lisa Petersen knows what it's like to not have access to free, medically appropriate birth control and she says she is furious with the federal decision to roll back provisions in the Affordable Care Act.

“I know many women that have benefited directly from the mandate that [President Barack] Obama put through so I think its really kind of horrifying to see that it might disappear so quickly in the new administration. “

Petersen is a 28-year-old Chicago woman whose testified in favor of the Illinois law.  Among other things, it let's women  avoid the complicated process of explaining that a particular birth control method is medically necessary.

Petersen said it took years to find a birth control pill that not have serious side effects.  Two years after college graduation she found she could no longer afford a $45 co-pay.

The Trump administration changes follow a U.S. Supreme Court decision involving the Hobby Lobby chain.  In that case, the court said a company whose owners had religious objections to contraception did not have to pay for employee access.  The  Trump administration's rollback allows higher education institutions and most any other employer to use religious and moral beliefs to deny coverage.

Credit The Catholic Conference of Illinois
The Catholic Conference of Illinois
Bob Gilligan is executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

Bob Gilligan, who is executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, says the Trump administration action is a return to common sense. 

“Religious entities are free to do what they think they need to do to fulfill their mission free of governmental interference. We welcome the decision and hope we can just move on and concentrate on what those ministries are intended to do serve the poor and heal the sick and those kind of things.”

But Lorie Chaiten, director of the Reproductive Rights Project at the ACLU of Illinois, strongly disagrees. The national ACLU is suing against the latest rules.

“Obviously, the  ACLU supports religious liberty and religious freedom. We believe very strongly that people have the right to believe however they believe or to have no religion at all. We would defend that right. What we don't agree with is that an employer has a right to impose those religious beliefs on their employees and so that is not religious liberty that's discrimination, right? That's saying that this one kind of health care that women get. I'm just not going to allow it. 

"Employees are entitled to insurance coverage for birth control; it's not a gift. It's part of the compensation package, and as a result we should not be denied a benefit because their employers has a particular religious belief that they may or may not share.”  

Credit ACLU of Illinois
ACLU of Illinois
Lorie Chaiten is director of the Reproductive Rights Project at the ACLU of Illinois.

The ACLU of Illinois is just one of the organizations opposed to the rollback.

Another is EverThrive of Illinois, which supports maternal and child health.

Kathy Waligora is director of the group's health reform initiative.

“I was really disappointed and, in fact, furious to learn that this was issued. They are going to reduce access to contraception for a lot of women who work with large employers.  I am happy to say that our state law will protect people who have individual and small group plans,  but most individuals in Illinois get their insurance through the large group plans. When we introduced and passed House Bill 5576, we really passed it in a world where we thought that everybody would have access to the guarantees provided by the affordable care act, and  so we're pretty dismayed.

Chaiten elaborates:

"For example, an employee welfare benefit plan that is a self-insured plan state law doesn't govern. And so, as a result, the protections that have been incorporated into state law that allow for no-cost coverage  wouldn't apply to  people whose employers run a self-funded or self insured plan.

“For others where state law does cover the plan under the state insurance code, we have passed these protections and incorporated as much as could of the affordable care act into state law so the hope would be that for many Illinois women they will in fact be able to continue to get access to contraception coverage.”

Brigid Leahy is director of legislation for Planned Parenthood Illinois.

"If your coverage that is from a large group self-insured plan, the state of Illinois can't regulate that plan and that's when the affordable care act comes into play, The federal law covered the insurance plans that are these large group plans.”

“When the Trump administration decided to rollback the birth control benefits, it really affects the women that are in those large group plans, and the best way for an individual to find  out whether or not their birth control is going to be continued to be covered is to contact your employers' [human resources] department or to call the health plan directly and ask the question.”

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is news editor and equity and justice beat reporter for NPR Illinois, where she has been on the staff since 2014 after Illinois Issues magazine’s merger with the station. She joined the magazine’s staff in 1998 as projects editor and became managing editor in 2003. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois Springfield, she was an education reporter and copy editor at three local newspapers, including the suburban Chicago Daily Herald, She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Illinois University and a master’s degree in English from UIS.
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