Two new bills introduced in Congress could help improve health outcomes for people of color, low income communities, and female members of the U.S. Armed Forces. Authors of both bills are using the legislative gains of the Affordable Care Act to increase access to comprehensive reproductive healthcare.

In the House, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA-40), Chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Health Task Force, introduced the Health Equity and Accountability Act (HEAA) of 2014. The Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, and the Congressional Black Caucus have all supported the bill, which seeks to “eliminate racial and ethnic disparities in healthcare access and health outcomes.” 

The HEAA is intended to build on the advancements of the Affordable Care Act by making federal resources available to target inequitable health access in vulnerable communities; creating federal guidelines for data collection and reporting; increasing cultural and linguistic-appropriate health care; and improving federal efforts to better health outcomes for women and families.

“We believe that no one’s life expectancy should be determined by the color of their skin, or the zip code in which they are born,” said Rep. Roybal-Allard in a statement announcing the introduction of the bill. “By adopting HEAA’s wide spectrum strategy of racial, ethnic, ability, language, and gender health disparity elimination initiatives, we hope to dramatically reduce the disproportionately high rates of premature death and preventable illness in our minority communities.”

The National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH) issued a release on Wednesday highlighting the HEAA’s specific impact on reproductive wellness. The bill would increase “access to comprehensive sexuality education and emergency contraception for communities of color” and help reduce unintended pregnancies for disproportionately impacted young people of color “including rural, LGBTQ, immigrant, and youth in the juvenile justice system.”

In the Senate, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced the Access to Contraception for Women Servicemembers and Dependents Act of 2014. The bill would dump existing Department of Defense policy on contraceptive health coverage and family planning counseling and replace it with a health care policy that matches civilian offerings under the Affordable Care Act. If passed, female service members would be entitled to FDA-approved contraception with no health insurance co-pays, like civilian populations.

“Female service members deserve access to the same basic health care as the women they protect,” Sen. Shaheen said in a statement. “It’s unacceptable that they don’t.” The bill is meant to build on the “Shaheen Amendment” which was signed into law last year. The Shaheen Amendment extends reproductive health services to females in the Armed Forces.

Currently, only service members on active duty have full coverage of prescription contraceptives without co-pays through the military health insurance program, TRICARE. Service members who are not on active duty do not have similar coverage through TRICARE. According to recent report by the Center for American Progress, the rate of unplanned pregnancy in the military is up to 50 percent higher than in the civilian population because of insufficient access to contraceptive care services.

Media Resources: Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard Press Release 7/30/14; National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health 8/1/14; Senator Jeanne Shaheen Press Release 7/30/14; Center for American Progress 7/30/14

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