Friday, January 21, 2011

Don't Just Treat the Symptom. Cure the Disease!

Growing up in the Chicago suburbs, puberty hit me early and hard. My brother and I got our first pimples around the same time, only he was 16 and I was 10. I had premenstrual cramps that even four ibuprofen at a time didn't stop. My mood changed at the drop of a hat. My anxiety about my appearance took a hit when I found stray black hairs on my chin. It wasn't until high school, when I went 3.5 months in a row without getting my period--twice--that I realized something was very wrong. Several rounds of doctors visits revealed the cause. I had Poly-Cystic Ovary Syndrome, a condition in which the body produces too much testosterone. If left untreated, PCOS can cause infertility, heart disease, uterine cancer, and diabetes. I later learned that this condition is fairly common among American women.

My reproductive endocrinologist, an expert on PCOS, prescribed Yasmin, a type of hormonal birth control pill. It would regulate my hormones, ease my symptoms, and hopefully reduce my risk of developing worse complications. The Pill is a standard treatment for a variety of hormone imbalances.

A couple months after starting the Pill, I found out the disturbing fact that my family's health insurance was not covering it. My parents had to cover my necessary medical treatment out of pocket every month. This was a fairly large sum, since Yasmin was still new and did not have a generic version.

After about a year, my dad had good news. Our insurance would start covering the Pill--as long as they received a signed letter from my doctor stating that he was not prescribing it for contraceptive purposes. I was annoyed enough when our policy wouldn't cover the Pill at all, but what should have been good news instead left me angry. The insurance company didn't support a medication being used for it's intended purpose. I could be on birth control, as long as I wasn't using it for birth control! I knew that the insurance company would never get away with treating other medications in this way. They continued this requirement until then-governor Rod Blagojevich signed a state law requiring all insurance policies to cover birth control.

This was the incident that lead to me here, at 26, volunteering as an intern for NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin. Reproductive health should be a medical issue, not a political one. It's not enough to make exceptions for conditions like mine. We need to ensure choice for all women. Whether a woman goes on the Pill for contraception or disease management, whether she wants to have an abortion or undergo fertility treatments . . . these choices should be hers to make under the guidance of a non-biased physician. As someone once said, politicians make lousy doctors.

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