STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law Monday that insulates Massachusetts from federal changes to birth control coverage under Obamacare, protecting a woman's right to free contraception in a move that supporters, including the governor, cheered as a message to Republicans in Washington.

The new law requires health insurance plans to cover most types of oral contraception without co-pays. The coverage extends to over-the-counter emergency contraception, and would allow women to fill prescriptions for birth control for 12 months at a time.

"This is exactly the sort of opportunity where Massachusetts has a chance to send a message to the rest of the country about how we think and how we feel about this issue and I'm proud to be part of the team," Baker said at a bill-signing ceremony in the State House library.

The event drew scores of advocates and supporters, and Baker was joined around the podium by a host of leading Democrats, including House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, Attorney General Maura Healey and Treasurer Deborah Goldberg.

"We're not going away," Healey said. "We're going to continue to stand for the rights of women."

The legislation gained steam on Beacon Hill following President Donald Trump's executive order making it easier for companies to opt out of covering birth control on religious or moral grounds. A compromise struck between state insurers and women's health advocates over the details of the bill help push it across the finish line.

"If Washington is going to be hostile to the programs and policies we know work, then we need to be prepared to act," said Senate Majority Leader Harriette Chandler, a Worcester Democrat and co-sponsor of the legislation.

The bill passed the House and Senate overwhelmingly in recent weeks, clearing the House 140-16, with only three Democrats voting against it, and on a 27-0 standing vote in the Senate.

"All women of this commonwealth, all women of this country, all women of the world are entitled to affordable, reliable and safe contraceptive care and I think that's what this was all about. Very, very simple," DeLeo said.

Chandler filed the legislation along with Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad and Rep. John Scibak at the beginning of the session as uncertainty swirled over whether the new Republican Congress would repeal the Affordable Care Act, and with it the protection of birth control coverage.

After Trump's executive order, the Rep. Aaron Michlewitz and Sen. Jamie Eldridge requested that the Center for Health Information and Analysis expedite its review of the potential costs of the coverage mandates. CHIA produced its analysis at the end of October, determining the bill would add between 7 cents and 20 cents to the average monthly premium.

Baker proposed in his budget last year a five-year moratorium on new health insurance mandates as he explored strategies to control the cost of health care, particularly within the state's Medicaid program. But he said this situation warranted an exception.

"In this particular case, there was a tremendous concern about a particular issue that involved the uncertainty associated with federal policy. I think it's terrific that everyone got together and got this done to protect women's reproductive rights here in Massachusetts," he said after the event.

Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts President Jennifer Childs-Roshak said the legislation would ensure that women in Massachusetts have the freedom to plan their families, sharing stories of women she's known who have cut birth control pills in half or skipped months in an effort to save money.

"Everyone deserves the ability to stay healthy, plan their families and focus on their future no matter who they are, where they live or who they work for," Childs-Roshak said.

The law has an exemption for insurance plans purchased by a church or a church-owned entity, and would also not apply to self-insured businesses, which account for some of Massachusetts' largest employers.

The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts was one of the few groups that vocally opposed to the bill.

Andrew Dreyfus, the CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, said the company was proud to be among the state health insurers supporting the new law after Planned Parenthood and others advocates cooperated to reach consensus.

One of the concessions allows insurers to charge co-pays for brand name contraceptives if a generic drug is available. Condoms are also not covered.
"The secret sauce is collaboration," Dreyfus said.

--Matt Murphy, State House News Service

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