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No-cost birth control! New HHS guidelines on women's preventive health

By Kathy Wollner
Women's Policy Coordinator, AMSA Gender & Sexuality Committee


This week, buried under chatter about raising the debt ceiling, was some pretty great news for women’s health care. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced new guidelines that all FDA-approved contraception options must be covered by all new health insurance plans*** without cost-sharing. These guidelines are based on the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations issued this July and will go into effect August 1, 2012.

This means women will be able to get whatever mode of birth control is right for them - oral contraceptive pills, patches, rings, injectables, IUDs - without having to pay co-pays or contribute into their deductibles.

This is huge in assuring that women will no longer be burdened with additional costs when seeking family planning. We know that giving women access to contraception allows them to prevent unintended pregnancies and space their children in a way that’s healthy for both moms and babies. When women have access, they and their partners are able to plan their families in the way that’s best for them. Removing barriers based on cost is a big step in the right direction toward ameliorating health disparities based on income and access.

But wait, there’s more!

Other services to be covered by new health insurance plans without co-pay include well woman visits, HIV testing and counseling, STD counseling (testing is covered under existing guidelines for women under 24 and those at high risk), HPV testing for women over 30, domestic violence screening and counseling, and breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling.

The Obama Administration’s support of evidence-based medicine and commitment to investing in preventive health care will in the end have a major impact on women’s health. No woman should be unable to access these basic health services due to cost. I am beyond excited for myself, my sisters, my friends, and my future patients that we can stop making health care decisions based on what’s covered by insurance and start making them based on what’s best for our health and well-being. Hooray!


*** What exactly does “new health insurance plans” mean? Good question. It essentially means that it won’t go into effect for everyone right away. While many employers stick with the same coverage year to year, there’s pretty much always a re-negotiation of the terms of the plan in some way, which will make it “new.” It’s unclear at this point (to the people who know more than me who I posed this question to and thus to me as well) what this means for individual plans, but in the case of group plans, these new guidelines should catch up to most plans sooner rather than later.

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