Vermont Insurers Must Now Cover Vasectomies : Shots - Health News State legislatures around the U.S. are debating which birth control benefits insurers must cover. Vermont is one of several states going beyond a focus on female contraception to include vasectomies.
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Vermont Insurers Must Now Cover Vasectomies

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Vermont Insurers Must Now Cover Vasectomies

Vermont Insurers Must Now Cover Vasectomies

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This next story might get people to squirm a little. We're going to talk about health coverage for vasectomies. Vermont has pushed to make birth control options available to men, as well as women. The state now mandates health insurance to cover the procedure without co-pays and deductibles. Rebecca Sananes reports.

REBECCA SANANES, BYLINE: At the Gifford Medical Center in Randolph, Vt., nurse Ann Bridges puts together post-operation goody bags for Vasectomy Friday, the most popular day of the week to get the permanent birth control operation.

ANN BRIDGES: So instructions, icepack, condoms, Bacitracin, sample cups (laughter) - one for each vasectomy.

SANANES: For the 5 percent of families depending on vasectomies as their primary method of birth control, it's a fairly simple procedure. It's performed in what looks more like a gynecologist's office than an operating theater. Although female sterilization is more common, Nurse Bridges says a vasectomy is casual in contrast to when a woman has the surgery.

BRIDGES: And for women to be sterilized, it's quite a procedure. I mean, it's in-patient. You're in the OR. You know, you have anesthesia onboard. You're six weeks. I, mean, it's actually a big deal. And men, they walk in and walk out. It's easier.

SANANES: State Representative Chris Pearson, the vice chair of the House Health Care Committee, oversaw the bill that adds vasectomies to health care coverage in Vermont. For Pearson, this legislation was personal. Like a lot of families, he and his wife started talking about a vasectomy after they were done having kids. They made the decision together. He thought other families should have the same option.

CHRIS PEARSON: To me, it wasn't a mystery. It wasn't scary. It was just sort of a no-brainer that when we're talking about different birth control options, we ought to include vasectomies.

SANANES: Pearson got the operation before the Vermont law passed, when, out-of-pocket, a vasectomy cost $1,400. The federal Affordable Care Act only covers contraceptives for women.

PEARSON: And what we're saying here in Vermont, and I'm proud of this, is saying, no, this is a family decision in many, many cases. And we should not pretend that this burden only falls to women at all and reflect the reality that in many, many cases, families make this decision together, and that's appropriate.

SANANES: He thinks in Vermont's Northeast liberal bubble, people often forget that access to birth control is controversial in many places.

PEARSON: But we are also part of a national dialogue. And it's important for us to push in the right direction while we watch so many states try to undo these basic rights.

SANANES: Not everyone in Vermont agrees that's the right direction. In the legislative debate, the Diocese of Burlington argued for religious exemption. Pete Gummere is a deacon with the Diocese of Burlington who has long studied the intersection of morality and modern medicine.

PETE GUMMERE: First Amendment, freedom of religion. How can you compel a religious organization to do something which it views as cooperation with evil?

SANANES: He says Vermont has many locally owned businesses run by families who have religious objections to providing birth control. On the federal level, Gummere's right. Corporations with religious affiliations rights do trump federal mandates. But what has not been decided yet is how that will play out for states. Maryland joins Vermont in adding birth control benefits for women and men, and similar bills are under consideration in Alaska, Minnesota and a handful of other states. For NPR News, I'm Rebecca Sananes in Norwich, Vt.

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SIMON: And this story is part of a reporting partnership with NPR, local member stations and Kaiser Health News. This is NPR News.

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