HHS Mandate And The Doctor Who Wouldn’t Give Me The Pill

Note: I wrote this post in May, but was too unwell most of the time to have energy to edit, and too tired to want to deal with comments without editing. Thankfully I’ve remembered that the trick to these things is to keep them long and picture-less so that no one will read them anyway. So here’s a whole new intro for you since no one will even remember what I’m talking about. HHS who? #DrinkTheIrony 

Remember the HHS fiasco? No? C’mon, you know, the decision to give women the pill for free–sort of?

One of the things that really, really bothered me about it was hearing so many people say that the “FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling” section of the guidelines was crucial to the health of women who might need to use the pill for therapeutic purposes.

I read in numerous places that I should rejoice about this because it would mean that there would be free treatment for women who suffer from PCOS and endometriosis! Thanks be to the government, the Catholic Church would be forced to finally provide women with legitimate healthcare.

This assertion irritated me first because the Catholic Church does not have a problem with the use of hormones for treating women’s health issues. The one example provided of a Catholic institution’s health insurance failing to provide the pill for a health issue seems clearly to me to have been a problem with our large bureaucratic health insurance system, not the Church’s moral teaching.

But, more personally, these arguments troubled me because they reveal a lack of understanding of the reality of how gynecological problems are treated in the real world. Here is a little glimpse into my life from a few months ago

. . .

I finally found a doctor who wouldn’t prescribe the pill for me. Would you like to hear more about such a grand physician? Read on!

Early this spring I went to see my primary care physician. I had a list of things I needed, including a prescription for hormones to shut my cycle back down after I had freaked out about the risk of blood clots in the previous pill. A year ago this doctor had asked me if I needed a prescription for the pill (for contraceptive purposes) and I had declined. So I thought that I could save a trip to the gynecologist and get this prescription along with everything else.

I realized that, not being a specialist in women’s health issues, this doctor might have no idea what to prescribe, so I wrote down a few possible options in case I needed to know exactly what I wanted.

But I never got to discuss choices with my doctor because she wanted to know about what I had been on before and why. When she heard that I had been taking the pill for a health issue, she said that she could not prescribe the pill for me and that I needed to see a specialist.

I nodded. I am pretty good at hiding complete shock.

Besides, the doctor’s stance made sense (at least the not prescribing medicine for specialized conditions that she isn’t trained to treat part) and everyone knows that the pill is super easy to get, right?

So I considered my other options. I have seen two other gynecologists at two different practices in the past year. The one who wrote my last prescription was the Catholic NFP specialist. Not only does it take a while to get an appointment with her, it also takes over half of a workday to make the trip to her office. And I have taken more than enough time for health issues. Scratch that. I would have to see the other doctor, or at least her practice.

Except that not only had the specialist who performed my surgery moved on from the office where I saw her, her colleague who sees patients for routine issues had also moved on, leaving only the male big-wig who spends his time in surgery or teaching, not writing prescriptions for patients not in need of surgery.

My only option was to find a new gynecologist and wait months for a new patient appointment.

Because apparently the pill is really easy to get, as long as you don’t actually need it for a health reason.

. . .

I am a woman with endometriosis who has spent most of her reproductive years without health insurance, but still struggled to receive adequate care with the best health insurance. It seems very close to insulting to those such as myself to assert that requiring all employers to pay for hormones for contraceptive purposes is somehow a service to women suffering from reproductive diseases. Say that it is good for women who want to avoid pregnancy if you like, but don’t tell me that it is about helping women who suffer from actual problems with their reproductive health. Oh wait, I just implied that pregnancy isn’t a problem in itself? We can talk about that later.

The truth is that the HHS debate was about religious freedom vs. free contraception for the purpose of preventing pregnancy. It had nothing to do with helping women with existing gynecological health problems.

I feel little kinship with some who are fighting against HHS because many of them ignorantly minimize my sickness and mock legitimate options for care. But their ignorance tends to be harmless and nothing more than pathetic.

In contrast, some of those who are fighting on behalf of the HHS mandate are baffling indeed. They use cases such mine to assert that requiring contraceptive coverage is somehow the answer for women with reproductive health problems, and that I should be happy to trade freedom of religion in for a pill.

The truth is that diseases of the female reproductive system bring a whole lot more complications than cheap pills alone can resolve. And one story of one woman’s suffering due to insurance bureaucracy and confusion is an incredibly poor reason to assert that adding more layers of government bureaucracy is a better solution than existing Catholic coverage for women who need hormonal treatment.

If you want to talk about actually helping women, if you want to talk about reducing reproductive diseases, if you want to talk about affordable health care coverage for all conditions, I am all ears. But please, please do not tell me that the money I give to my local Catholic school needs to be used to pay for contraceptives because “women with endometriosis need it.”

Money for contraceptives has nothing to do with endometriosis and receiving adequate care, okay?

Real health issues are really complex. Please don’t gloss over the intricacies of reality. And please do not use my health condition as a political joke to reduce my religious freedom.

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8 thoughts on “HHS Mandate And The Doctor Who Wouldn’t Give Me The Pill

  1. Catholic Mutt

    Whew! Made it through, even without a single picture! ;)

    I’m glad you decided to go ahead a post this now. I think your view with what you go through is very important to the whole conversation, and I know I need to hear it. I think that it is ironic with all this talk about “women’s health” that it is actually very difficult to get real answers to real women’s health problems. I don’t think that either side in the discussion is making it particularly easier.

  2. Rebecca

    I made it through too (go me! :)).

    Seriously though, you are so spot on with this! I have been struggling since the whole stupid HHS mandate uproar started with how to share my thoughts and you nailed most of it on the head perfectly – thank-you! Also, the other parts relate to the irony of the uproar for covering birth control (which I have no doubt will head right down the slippery slope to coverage for IVF and the like) and the fact that if it weren’t for having good insurance (yes I realize how fortunate I am in this regard) I would be paying out the a$$ for medications in hopes of FIXING my broken body so that I can get pregnant, you know the normal way. I pay more per month for a medication I take 4 times than I ever paid per month for “the pill” – with OR without insurance.

    This whole thing just makes my head want to explode – so I am extremely grateful that you wrote this – and that you wrote it now. I might even go back and read it again just because I liked it so much…if only there were pictures ;).

  3. Kacie

    I think a great many people don’t differentiate between life and personhood. That violinist arguement is pretty terrible, but it’s similar to the only real pro-choice arguement that’s been argued to me by friends. That is, essentially, the life doesn’t matter if it infringes on mine. Our own right to happiness, convenience, and comfort is the God. If that’s the only pro-choice arguement there is, it’s pretty terrible.

  4. Lee Akter

    This is so well written! You are not the first woman I’ve encountered who has been frustrated/roadblocked from getting the type of reproductive treatment she knows that she needs when she needs it. The situation is beyond frustrating and infuriating; it is highly insulting.

    Common sense should reveal that adding more layers of bureaucracy won’t help women with this issue. As you point out, the case being made that this mandate is here to help you in your unique circumstances is merely a red herring, and a highly disingenuous one at that.

    This is a great post; thank you for sharing your experience.

  5. Kathleen

    I know this post is a little old, but I had to thank you for writing it. Nothing infuriates me more than the “but PCOS!” defense of the HHS mandate. First of all, the mandate is for preventative medicine, which treating PCOS is not. If coverage of preventative medicine happens to cover the treatment of your condition, then you lucked out. That’s a loophole, not a rationale for the whole policy! (The question of whether preventing pregnancy should be treated the same as preventing disease not being the point here.)

    Second of all, although my PCOS is not severe, it makes NFP quite tricky, so my doctor and I have been trying to regularize my cycles using supplemental progesterone. If the HHS mandate is all about helping women with PCOS, why aren’t my treatments covered unless they’re contraceptive? Because the HHS mandate has nothing to do with PCOS!

    (And you know what else isn’t included, because it’s not contraceptive? NFP training, follow-up, supplies, etc. So I have to pay for contraceptive coverage, despite my religious beliefs; that coverage does not include NFP , so I also have to pay out of pocket for my own family planning needs. How again does this arrangement respects my religious freedom, my economic interests, or my reproductive health? Every time I hear about how this is “good for women” I feel like responding with “Ain’t I a woman?”)

    What’s also infuriating (sorry, this post reminded me of all the things that have been infuriating me lately!) is what I read in my insurance company’s information when our new plan kicked in. It doesn’t apply to me, because my employer is secular, so all contraceptives are covered, but the company specified that on any plan that doesn’t cover certain hormonal medications (i.e. the pill) for contraceptive purposes, they are also not covered for any other purpose. I shudder for the woman with real need who can’t get coverage because she works for a parish, despite the fact that the treatment would have the complete support of Church teaching.

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