The Department of Health and Human Services announced on Monday that women will no longer have to pay more for preventive healthcare services because of their gender.
As part of the health care reform law, health insurance companies will be required to provide women free birth control, as well as other preventive services free of charge including screening for gestational diabetes, HPV testing for cervical cancer, breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling, and counseling for sexually-transmitted infections including HIV. The announcement comes after an independent panel of doctors and health experts at the Institute of Medicine recommended last month that all approved contraception methods – including the “morning after pill” – be provided without requiring women to have a co-pay.
“These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement.
After the announcement, the Planned Parenthood organization praised the decision.
“Today is a historic victory for women’s health and women across the country,” Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said. “The decision by HHS is monumental for millions of women who have struggled with the cost of birth control and other essential health-care services such as cervical cancer and HIV screening.”
Planned Parenthood also argued that eliminating co-pays for preventive health care would help reduce unintended pregnancies throughout the country because more women would be able to afford – or not be as afraid to get – the type of services they would need to help prevent a pregnancy. Co-pays for birth control pills can be anywhere from $15 to $50 per month, and other methods, such as IUDs, can often be several hundred dollars in out-of-pocket expenses even with health insurance, according to Planned Parenthood.
“There is no doubt that birth control is basic health care for women,” Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said. “Covering birth control without co-pays is one of the most important steps we can take to prevent unintended pregnancy and keep women and children healthy.”
Even the Institute of Medicine panel’s chairwoman, Linda Rosenstock, dean of public health at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the prevention of unintended pregnancies was essential for the psychological, emotional and physical health of women.
California Sen. Barbara Boxer also praised the new guidelines and said it was another progression the health care reform law has undertaken – last year the health care reform law required services such as colonoscopies, blood pressure checks and childhood immunizations to be given without co-pays.
“We know that women often delay or skip preventive health care because of the costs,” Boxer said. “After fighting for years in Congress to increase access to women’s health care, I am pleased that this decision will make important preventive care more affordable for millions of women and their families.”
According to the market analysis firm INS health, more than 90 million prescriptions for contraceptives were dispensed in the United States in 2009, the generic versions of the pill were available for $9 a month and about half of all pregnancies were unplanned.
Although the announcement was made on Monday, the new requirements will not take effect until Jan. 1, 2013, in most cases. The guidelines also would allow religious institutions to opt out of offering birth control coverage, after the new provisions received criticism from social and religious conservatives.
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