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Massachusetts governor signs bill guaranteeing women access to free birth control

[JURIST] Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker [official website] signed House No. 4009 (H4009) [text, PDF] on Monday guaranteeing access to free contraception for women notwithstanding any future changes to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) [text, PDF] that may be effected by Congress [official website].

This development follows President Donald Trump's Executive Order 13798 [text] titled Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty passed in May 2017 expanding the scope of employers with religious and moral objections to deny access to contraceptives. The Massachusetts law limits the moral and religious objections but provides a religious exemption for churches and organizations principally run by a church.

Following repeal attempts in Congress, Baker sought to implement assurances that would maintain the national standard under the ACA. Regardless of any alteration or replacement of the ACA enacted by Congress, oral contraception devices, voluntary female sterilization procedures, and emergency contraception will remain covered with the exclusion of male condoms.

The new law requires insurers to pay for a 12-month supply of prescription birth control pills after a three-month trial period. Currently, insurers often only cover one or three months at a time, forcing women to go regularly reorder medication at pharmacies. Furthermore, the law now extends further than the ACA itself, as the coverage must include over-the-counter emergency contraception without the requirement of a co-payment. However, the law exempts self-insured employers who assume the economic burden of providing health insurance to their employees. Many large companies fall within this exception but advocates of the bill anticipate that self-insured employers will abide by these new policies.

Baker stated [press release] that his administration is "proud to join our colleagues in the legislature to protect women’s health care and access to family planning services ... Massachusetts leads the country in health care with nearly universal coverage, and signing this important, bipartisan bill into law ensures critical access to contraceptive coverage for women across the Commonwealth."

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey [official website] thanked the legislature for their efforts in drafting and passing the legislation and the governor for signing it stating: "Every woman should have affordable and reliable access to the birth control option that is best for her. It is basic health care. We must do everything we can to protect the rights of women and families here in Massachusetts."

The law is expected to become effective in six months.

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