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Factcheck.Org Comes To McCain’s Defense On Birth Control


The hot issue between John McCain and birth control was fact checked.

After issuing a string of reports debunking many claims in several of the senator’s recent campaign ads, FactCheck.org defends McCain against a Planned Parenthood attack ad in its newest analysis.

FactCheck.org is a non-partisan fact-checking website from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Public Policy.

The ad in question features the now-famous footage of McCain squirming in response to a reporter’s question about the fairness of health insurance plans that cover Viagra prescriptions for men, but not birth control for women.

John McCain Can't Make Up His Mind about Contraception

COPYRIGHT_WI: Published on https://washingtonindependent.com/john-mccain-and-birth-control/ by Jaya Mckeown on 2023-02-01T03:22:34.779Z

John McCain and Birth Control Fact Checked

The verdict: the problem doesn’t really exist.

From the analysis:

Planned Parenthood is running a TV ad showing Senator John McCain painfully groping for an answer to a reporter’s question.

Here was the question the reporter, Maeve Reston of The Los Angeles Times (now a national political reporter for CNN), asked the senator:

It’s unfair that health insurance companies cover Viagra but not birth control. Do you have an opinion on that?

- Maeve Reston

McCain had good reason to be flustered.

The premise of the reporter’s question is a myth.

We couldn’t find any data that show a disparity between health insurance companies that cover Viagra and those that cover birth control.

The full range of contraceptives, in fact, are covered by more than 86 percent of private insurance plans written for employers.

A point of clarification: to be fair to Maeve Reston, the footage featured in the ad is edited in a way that makes it appear as though she is taking the position that the alleged disparity is “unfair.”

Contraceptive pills
Contraceptive pills

Fact-Checking The Ad

Anyway, here's what FactCheck.org turned up:

The ad implies there is a significant disparity between the number of insurance plans that cover Viagra and those that cover birth control.

But that’s not the case.

A 2004 report by the nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute found that in 2002, 86 percent of the plans that insurance companies typically wrote for employers covered the full range of approved reversible contraceptive methods (birth control pills, hormone injections, implants, IUDs and diaphragms), and only 2 percent covered no methods at all.

The worry that Viagra, but not birth control, is being included in health care plans is out-of-date, according to Adam Sonfield, who co-authored the report.

When Viagra initially became available and insurers began to cover it, Sonfield said:

There was concern that this was the case and that insurance companies really were covering erectile dysfunction drugs but were not covering contraception.

- Adam Sonfield

This concern, he says, helped spur efforts to get contraception coverage mandated in 27 states, and contraceptive coverage rates shot up as a result.

Sonfield’s study, which asked insurance companies about employer-sponsored plans, found that coverage of contraceptive methods had tripled from 1993 to 2002.

Sonfield says that the number of plans covering birth control likely has continued to increase over the last six years, though he stresses that U.S. health care is still short of complete coverage.

As for Viagra, independent studies of coverage are sparse, but the ones that exist don’t show that the drug is covered more than birth control.

In 2000, an article in Health Affairs reported that “[o]nly about half of all U.S. health plans reimburse members for at least some Viagra pills.”

A 1999 Washington Post article reported that the drug company Pfizer, which makes Viagra, estimated the coverage rate at 40 percent.

And a 2007 Mercer survey of large employers (500 or more employees) showed that about 30 percent denied coverage of erectile dysfunction drugs, and most of the remaining employers imposed limitations on coverage.

A Pfizer representative had no comment when we requested more up-to-date information.

Blue Viagra pills in blister packs in sets of four
Blue Viagra pills in blister packs in sets of four

Final Thoughts

So, Sen. John McCain gets a pass on this birth control issue.

However, the footage revealed how demonstrated his complete lack of comfort in discussing women’s issues.

You could almost see the wheels turning in his head as he unsuccessfully tried to think of a way to answer the questions in a way that would satisfy his questioner - without also angering those religious conservatives who oppose birth control on principle.

John McCain and birth control issues might still make headlines in the coming days.

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About The Authors

Jaya Mckeown

Jaya Mckeown - Jaya moved to Boston from New York to pursue a master's degree in corporate communications at Emerson College. This experience, combined with her undergraduate degree in psychology and teaching, has equipped her with valuable skills that she employs on a daily basis in real estate negotiations, homebuyer and seller education, and successful promotion of the team's listings. Jaya's clients often characterize her as meticulous, proactive, and enjoyable to be around.

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