Assembly Health Committee Approves Leyva Bill Expanding Access to Birth Control in California

SB 523 Prioritizes Contraceptive Equity and Reproductive Freedom for Californians

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

SACRAMENTO – The Assembly Health Committee passed Senate Bill 523 authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) earlier today, taking California one step closer to creating greater contraceptive equity statewide. If enacted, SB 523 will expand and modernize birth control access in California regardless of an individual’s gender, insurance coverage status, where they work or where they go to school.

Specifically—if passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed by the Governor—SB 523 would make California’s birth control benefits gender inclusive, require coverage of over-the-counter birth control options, expand contraceptive coverage benefits to Californians enrolled in state employee and university and college health plans and clarify that employers in California may not discriminate or retaliate against their employees based on their personal contraceptive or reproductive health decisions.

“For decades, California has been a pioneer in enacting legislation that protects and increases access to birth control, but current law leaves too many individuals and communities without equitable access.  SB 523 will build on existing measures to help ensure our contraceptive benefits and policies extend to millions more across the state,” Senator Leyva said.  “It is vitally important that we improve health outcomes for all Californians, as well as ensure that they are able to access these important reproductive health care services when and where they need that care.”

In 2014, SB 1053 (Mitchell)—requiring Medi-Cal managed care and most commercial health plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods without co-pays, cost-sharing, or restrictions like step-therapy or prior authorization—was signed into law.  Since SB 1053 was enacted, several states have expanded access to birth control even further by requiring health plans to cover over-the-counter birth control pills, condoms and vasectomies and other male birth control methods on the horizon.  Moreover, in 2016, SB 999 (Pavley)—ensuring that most health insurance plans in California cover a year’s supply of birth control dispensed at once—was chaptered.

In spite of the progress already made in California, health disparities in reproductive health outcomes persist among Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC), including disproportionate unintended pregnancy, infant and maternal mortality, and STD rates. The COVID-19 public health emergency has also further highlighted the structural inequities that disproportionately affect youth, low-income people and communities of color in accessing birth control services. A report by the Guttmacher Institute revealed that 38 percent of Black women and 45 percent of Latinas—compared to 29 percent of white women—now face difficulties accessing birth control as a result of the pandemic. Lower-income women were also more likely than higher-income women to report having experienced delays or having been unable to get contraceptive care because of the pandemic (36 percent vs. 31 percent).

Jointly sponsored by Essential Access Health, NARAL Pro-Choice California, and the National Health Law Program, SB 523 has also earned the support of dozens of health care, legal, business, education, social justice and other organizations.