Avocates say a new Maryland law will place the state at the forefront of efforts to require insurance plans to offer birth control at no out-of-pocket cost, expanding access to women and men who want to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
The law goes further than President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, which already reduced costs for women seeking birth control in many cases.
Under the Contraceptive Equity Act, Maryland will be the first state to require insurance companies to cover over-the-counter emergency contraceptives, such so called morning-after pills, at no cost. Maryland also will be the first state prohibiting out-of-pocket costs for men who have vasectomies.
Advocates who pushed the bill through the General Assembly say Maryland is the first state to pass such a comprehensive approach.
"Maryland is on the forefront across the board with this act," said Karen Nelson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland.
Other provisions prohibit co-payments for any type of contraceptive and also ban preauthorization requirements for long-acting contraceptives such as IUDs. The law allows women to receive six months' worth of birth control pills at one time.
Del. Ariana B. Kelly, a Montgomery County Democrat who shepherded the bill through the legislature, said the act will make a "huge difference in people's lives."
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is expected to sign the bill into law Tuesday, along with nearly 200 other bills that lawmakers passed this year.
The law won't go into effect until Jan. 1, 2018 — timing that will allow insurers to prepare for the 2017 open-enrollment season — and will apply only to insurance companies regulated by the state of Maryland. Some insurance plans that Marylanders have will not be covered, such as those that are issued from other states.
"When so many states and so many pockets of the country are trying to take away reproductive health care and take away rights of women, Maryland is saying, 'We are going to provide more health care coverage and more access to birth control.'"
Some parts of Maryland's bill mimic laws already on the books in other states. Oregon and Washington, D.C., for example, require insurance companies to allow women to obtain 12 months' worth of birth control pills at a time.
"Many other states are implementing piecemeal provisions, but there's nothing as comprehensive as this act," Nelson said.