Why Health Insurance Brokers Assume All Women Take Birth Control

It was one of those mornings.

I had already been on the phone for about 2 hours, periodically shouting “representative!” at the automated messaging service that couldn’t hear me and being transferred between so many people I couldn’t keep track. There’s nothing like the feeling that wells up inside you as you listen to static smooth jazz while trying to send at least a few emails so your entire day isn’t a waste.

(And all this happened before my call got disconnected and I had to start the whole process over again.  I ‘m sure y’all know my pain.)

I finally got someone. A real live someone. A man with a beating heart, functioning brain, and solid grasp of the English language. Hooray! In a careful voice, I warned him that I was “one of those frustrated customers you learn about in training.” He laughed and we exchanged pleasantries. I explained that I was researching health insurance options for the new year and was wondering if he could help me understand the differences between a few of the plans. The first words out of his mouth were:

“What medication are you on besides birth control?”

Oh the opportunity! How to respond? Too many things to say! Despite overwhelming temptation to share some handy dandy facts about Fertility Awareness and Natural Family Planning, I settled for a simple, “I don’t take birth control medication.” (Perhaps if I hadn’t been holding my phone for 120 minutes and 57 seconds, I would have had a little more creative energy.) Poor Mr. Insurance Broker masked his shock with an awkward and overly-enthusiastic “oh!”

This short conversation can teach us so much. Mr. Insurance Broker didn’t know anything about me except the fact that, judging from my voice, I’m a woman. Based on my female-sounding voice, he assumed I was on birth control. He didn’t ask “do you take any medication?” He asked if I took any medication besides birth control.

After reflecting about this conversation a bit, I realized that some women could really benefit from having a similar conversation with Mr. Insurance Broker; a similar conversation could help some women to realize/remember that artificial birth control is indeed a medication.  This would be important when women are deciding to take an additional medication to determine if it is safe to mix their chosen form of artificial birth control with the new medication in question.  I’ve heard someone explain that the reason some women forget to think about their birth control as medication is because birth control is so normalized in our society. But this doesn’t really make sense. Medicines such as Advil, Dayquil, and Claritin are just as “normalized” as birth control is (and some people even take them on a daily basis).  People know allergy medicine is….well….medicine. That’s often not the case with artificial birth control. Many women don’t think of artificial birth control as “medication” because the majority of women don’t take birth control to treat illness. I’m glad that Mr. Insurance Broker asks this question because it might help remind some women who call him that they are ingesting powerful drugs every morning.

When I wrote the first draft of this post, I included a little paragraph about how it was fair for Mr. Insurance Broker to assume that I took artificial birth control.  Everyone takes it, right? Haven’t you read somewhere that 99% of women have used birth control at some point? There are a lot of people and organizations with pretty strong motivation to distribute this “statistic” far and wide.  (And they are doing a pretty good job.)   Thank goodness I sent the post to a friend to review; she taught me that, as reported by the Guttmacher Institute, only 36% of women use hormonal contraception or some other form of IUD.  36%? That’s not even close to half of women.  You can read more about this statistic and related ones here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2016/11/18/the-claim-that-99-percent-of-women-have-used-birth-control/

I assumed that Mr. Insurance Broker had reason to believe I was on birth control.  I guess it’s a good reminder that when you hear something enough times, it’s difficult to prevent it from infiltrating your thoughts.  And we all know what happens when we assume….

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2 comments

  1. No, Insurance Man was saying he didn’t want to know whether you were on birth control. The reason being that all the plans cover birth control with no copay, but have different coverage amounts for other meds, so he needed to know what beside birth control you were on to recommend a plan to you. If he had wanted to know about your birth control, he would have said, “What medications are you on INCLUDING birth control?”

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