In my five years in Taiwan, I’ve been consistently impressed with the healthcare system here.
That’s why I was surprised to learn, after using the system for so long, that birth control is not covered by the National Health Insurance (NHI) and the birth control options available to women in Taiwan are limited at best. The cheapest options are similar in price to one person’s NHI monthly premium after employer subsidization. This is an insult to women’s rights and choice. It needs to change immediately.
I realize there are two factors at play in the decision not to cover contraceptives: The first is that the Taiwanese government is preoccupied with raising the birthrate and covering birth control appears to contradict that goal. The second is that it’s “elective” and not a necessity for a healthy life (although I could argue that for many women, it is a necessity for a fulfilling life).
I accept neither of these excuses. As for increasing the birthrate, making birth control needlessly expensive is not the way to do it. Middle-class and wealthy women in Taiwan can afford the NT$450 to NT$650 a month that birth control costs, as well as the initial OB/GYN consultation fees, but poorer women cannot. Does the government really want to raise the birthrate only among women who are pregnant only because they can’t afford birth control? How about among women whose husbands force them to have sex and who won’t wear a condom? Are these the households in which we want children to be born?
Shouldn’t the government instead pursue a policy in which babies are born into stable families who planned for them, want them and will love them?
Birth control is more than an “elective” — access to it is a necessary component of women’s freedom and rights. For some women, it’s the only thing standing between them and poverty, as they — married or not — can’t afford to raise a child.
It’s not a complete solution to say: “Make him wear a condom.” Unfortunately, many men in Taiwan refuse to do this, including married men. For many women, especially those in abusive or controlling marriages, taking control of their own form of contraception is the only option — and it’s a pricey one. It is one of the most expensive long-term medications to take, because it is not covered as most long-term medications are.
For some women, birth control is a medical necessity brought on by various health issues, either to maintain chronic conditions or because pregnancy would be dangerous or life-threatening.
This creates an unacceptably sexist bent to Taiwan’s national health policy. With Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) in the running to be Taiwan’s first female president, Taiwanese women can only hope that she, in fighting for greater women’s rights and equality, will take a hard look at the issue and decide that things need to change. Now.