In the United States, contraceptives remain one of the most controversial provisions of health insurance and the laws that dictate its level of coverage. In October of this year, the Trump Administration took action to roll back the birth control mandate issued by the Obama Administration under the Affordable Care Act. ObamaCare lowered the cost barrier that had previously inhibited many from obtaining birth control. Without it, hundreds of thousands of women could lose such accessibility. President Trump’s effort was backed by motivations of religious freedom, allowing for employers to reject coverage of birth control under religious or spiritual beliefs. This decision has brought insurance coverage of contraceptives back into the spotlight and into the minds of many individuals and institutions.
One prominent institution that has recently reconsidered its stance on birth control coverage is a Catholic university and Boston College's football rival, the University of Notre Dame. On Tuesday November 7, a day of political change coincidentally, Notre Dame announced that faculty, staff, and students would receive coverage of contraceptives through the university-sponsored insurance plans. This announcement came as a surprise due to the fact that it starkly contradicted a statement made just a week prior. Notre Dame made its community aware the previous week that it would discontinue birth-control coverage, bearing in mind the religious freedom protections put into place by the Trump administration.
Considering the Catholic university filed a suit against the government over the birth control mandate of the Affordable Care Act, the initial statement did not come as a shock. However, this does make the university’s most recent announcement to ensure birth control even more unexpected. The administration claims that this change of heart was out of respect for the school’s diverse community. Yet, it is unclear as to why the university is responding to objections only now, after years of faculty and student grievances.
This critical reversal of the university’s position on birth control coverage, as well as its attitude toward religious freedom, calls into question the standing of the BC administration. The University of Notre Dame and Boston College are known for more than just their great football rivalry, coined the Holy War. Both universities are comparable in their centric Catholic values and academic excellence. But how do these universities compare in their stance on birth control coverage?
The campus health fee which BC students must pay for access to Health Services does not cover any forms of contraceptives, though it does provide STD and pregnancy testing. Health Services does not offer birth control in any form, not even condoms. The university states that “because of the moral values that Boston College espouses, University Health Services, by policy, does not provide materials for the purpose of preventing conception or counsel that would encourage abortion.” Although Health Services may not provide birth control, the real question is whether BC’s medical insurance covers this particularly lofty expense.
Boston College’s student medical insurance is the Blue Cross Blue Shield Student Blue Plan. Under this plan, the generic version of birth control is covered with no cost for the insurance holder. However, brand-name birth control is not covered by the plan and is considered a Tier-3 drug, meaning the cost would be $50 for every 30-day prescription. Most brand-name birth control pills have a generic equivalent, and while the actual medication is supposed to be exactly the same, the packaging, shape, color, and inactive ingredients may be slightly different. Think of ibuprofen, a common over-the-counter pain reliever. You can choose to buy the less expensive CVS brand ibuprofen, which is the generic drug, or you can opt for the brand-name ibuprofen, which would be Advil. Although the BC-sponsored medical insurance does cover generic birth control, it limits access to those who prefer brand name birth control, for reasons ranging from efficiency to side effects.
In short, BC Health Services is prohibited from providing any form of contraceptives to students, yet the BC-sponsored student medical insurance does cover the cost of birth control, although limited to generic forms. These two facts send a confusing message to the student body; however, such conflicting implications align with the rest of BC’s ambiguous policy towards birth control. BC’s website is very vague regarding student coverage of birth control, and directly getting in contact with the insurance company is the only way to actually discover that birth control is covered.
The vagueness and confusion regarding access to contraceptives is what has sparked calls by students, particularly from the group BC Students for Sexual Health (SSH), for more accessible and clearer information. SSH believes that “students should be allowed ready access to contraceptives—if not through the university then by student groups such as ourselves. Students have the right to be well-educated and prepared when it comes to making decisions about their sex lives, and that’s what we are striving to do.”
Unexpectedly, Notre Dame changed their seemingly rigid and valued policy regarding birth control coverage for its community. The Catholic university made this significant and unexpected change in response to objections by both faculty and students alike. This demonstrates that each individual holds the power necessary to change policies that directly affect the collegiate environment, even at largely traditional and conservative Catholic universities like BC and Notre Dame. If Notre Dame can make administrative changes based on the calls from its students, what's to say that something similar can't happen at BC if the student body demands it?