Decision Requires Insurers to Cover No-Cost Birth Control Under ACA

This week, the US Department of Health and Human Services released a decision stating that birth control will be part of the preventive health care benefits that must be covered under health insurance plans at no cost to consumers. The decision means no out-of-pocket costs, no cost sharing, and no deductible for women who have little to no current access to birth control. The new requirement is part of a comprehensive set of guidelines for women’s preventive care released this week by HHS as part the Affordable Care Act, which requires insurers to cover certain preventive services.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius explained the benefits of the decision for women, noting that “while women are more likely to need preventive health care services, they often have less ability to pay,” and that, “too often, the combination of women's lower incomes and out-of-pocket health costs mean that women forgo necessary preventive services.”

Last month, the Institute of Medicine’s panel of non-partisan, independent medical professionals took into consideration the impact that such a decision would make for women’s health and our nation’s health care system, and therefore recommended that HHS adopt the recommendations. Members of the independent Working Group of State Legislators for Health Reform also expressed their support of the recommendations by encouraging the Secretary to adopt the recommendations last week, noting recent studies that show that unintended pregnancies currently cost U.S. taxpayers $11 billion per year, and emphasizing that increasing access to birth control available could decrease this rate and lessen the burden on both the health care system and the states.

The list of preventive services which the Affordable Care Act now requires health insurance plans to cover under care at no cost to women include: birth control, screening for gestational diabetes, breastfeeding support and counseling, counseling on sexually transmitted diseases, screenings for HPV, counseling and screening for HIV, well-woman visits, and counseling to detect and prevent domestic violence.

Unsurprisingly, the extreme right wasted no time in attacking the decision. Rep. Steve King (R-OH) went so far as to claim that requiring plans to cover birth control with no co-pays would help bring about a “dying civilization.”

The decision by HHS also comes at a moment when many other programs for women’s health care are under intense fire. Attacks on providers of women’s health care such as Planned Parenthood have taken place both in Congress and in many states. (Just this week, a federal judge in Kansas blocked a law there that would have defunded Planned Parenthood, ruling that the intent of the law was to “single out, punish and exclude” the organization.) In addition, state legislative attempts to strip women of reproductive rights hit record highs in 2011 sessions, as newly empowered conservative lawmakers advanced a far-right social agenda.

At a time when the unwanted pregnancy rate in the United States currently hovers around 50%, far above the rate of other industrialized nations, the decision by HHS to require plans to cover birth control services will be key to a healthier population and bringing down health care costs associated with family planning and unintended pregnancies.

Full Resources from this Article

Decision Requires Insurers to Cover No-Cost Birth Control Under ACA

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Fact Sheet: Affordable Care Act Rules on Expanding Access to Preventive Services for Women
Guttmacher Institute – Nation Pays Steep Price For High Rate Of Unintended Pregnancy
Guttmacher Institute – States Enact Record Number of Abortion Restrictions in First Half of 2011

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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