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VOICES

Free Birth Control Under Affordable Care Act

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CREDIT: Flickr / starbooze

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidelines today under which health insurance providers must provide a range of preventive health services for women, including FDA-approved contraception methods and counseling, with no patient copay.

“Under the law, we’re making it illegal for insurers to charge women more just because of their gender,” said Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sibelius in a conference call announcing the guidelines. “Today’s announcement is another step toward the goal of making sure that women get the health care they need.”

The new regulations—which closely adhere to a set of recommendations on preventive women’s health under the Affordable Care Act released last month by the Institute of Medicine—will apply to all health insurance plans with plan years beginning on or after Aug. 1, 2012. While some vulnerable populations, including university students, are likely to already have health insurance, eliminating the copay on common birth control products may reduce the likelihood of their engaging in risky sexual behavior.

“The announcement we’re making today will ensure that millions of mothers and daughters around the country won’t have to think twice about getting the preventive care they need to stay healthy,” Sebelius said.

Birth control options including oral contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices and contraceptive patches will be included with no patient copay under the new regulations. Female patients will also be guaranteed copay-free screenings for gestational diabetes, human papillomavirus and human immunodeficiency retrovirus screening, in addition to an annual “well-woman” visit and counseling on domestic violence. The regulations also make available sexually transmitted infection counseling, which will be used to identify high-risk populations to whom free STI screenings may be offered.

Howard Koh, the assistant secretary for health, credited his experience as a practicing physician with helping him see the need for comprehensive preventive care services in the United States.

“I am a physician who has seen so much suffering, and so much preventable suffering,” Koh said.

In addition to providing women with reproductive control, Koh emphasized that making counseling available for victims of domestic abuse is a key component in patient wellbeing for women.

“The need here is tremendous,” Koh said, noting that approximately 40 percent of women report partner violence at some point in their life. “So this is a major public health issue that demands attention from the viewpoint of prevention.”

Under the new guidelines, religious organizations which offer health insurance to their employees can opt not to cover contraceptive services.

Sebelius also pointed to a recent study that found over half of women avoid or delay preventive care because of prohibitive costs.

“The Affordable Care Act helps stop health problems before they start,” Sebelius said in a written statement. “These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need.”

Jon Christian is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Christian.

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