For any woman who has stressed about the cost of birth control, struggled to get emergency contraception or skipped her annual gynecological check-up because she was strapped for cash, there’s good news.
This week, the Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the Affordable Care Act will expand preventive services for women, including access to birth control without co-pays.
This is the first time that HHS has offered preventive care services tailored specifically to women’s unique needs. The plan is based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine.
“Planned Parenthood applauds this decision made by HHS,” says Vanessa Cullins, M.D., vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “The recommendations are really focused on the reproductive health needs of women and also the health of infants during the prenatal time period and at birth. This represents a very important paradigm shift since the focus is on prevention.”
According to the new plan, eight preventive wellness services must be fully covered by health insurance companies, with no additional out-of-pocket or co-pay fees. This includes coverage for all FDA-approved birth control methods, including emergency contraceptives like Plan B and long-term options like sterilization.
A recent Guttmacher Institute poll showed that more than 98 percent of all sexually active women have used a birth control method other than the rhythm method. Even among religious women, options like the Pill are common. In fact, 68 percent of Catholic women and 74 percent of Evangelical Protestants have used sterilization, hormonal treatments like the pill or intra-uterine devices (IUDs).
Coverage also includes annual gynecological check-ups; counseling and screening for STDs; screenings for gestational diabetes, cervical cancer and domestic violence; and breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling. “Right now, this ruling only affects newly created private insurance plans,” adds Dr. Cullins.
WATCH VIDEO: The Journey of a Pill
The new coverage is intended to help prevent unwanted pregnancies, which account for nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States (one of the highest rates in the developed in the world).
Although birth control methods are widely used, coverage is currently minimal—and research suggests that even minor co-pay charges can deter contraceptive use.
Despite how popular the Pill has become, a Reuters survey released in May 2011 found that only 31 percent of respondents reported having health insurance that covered birth control pills. And even those who have coverage pay a hefty sum. With health insurance, the Pill costs anywhere from $15 to $50 per month and other methods, like IUDs, can cost hundreds of dollars—a prohibitive price tag for many women.
The new plan, which goes into effect in August 2012, will change all that.
“Women need to understand what their insurance covers and doesn’t and have an idea of the type of care that they should be receiving,” says Dr. Cullins. “It will be extremely important that women have knowledge of these recommendations and advocate for themselves.”
Sex is great for beauty—it improves circulation and mood, giving your skin a gorgeous glow—but to be beautiful, it has to be safe. Access to comprehensive care that prevents unwanted pregnancies and promotes safe, healthy sex is an all-around win for women.
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