The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Monday announced new guidelines under the Affordable Care Act that will ensure women receive essential preventive health care services, a move that women’s health providers such as Planned Parenthood are applauding.
“This decision is historic, since contraceptives and other vital preventive health care services for women will no longer be treated as luxury care,” a Planned Parenthood Mar Monte press release states. “This will be ground-breaking for many women in Nevada struggling with the cost of birth control and other essential health care services.”
Eight specific services will be made available void of co-payment, co-insurance or deductible expenses for patients under the new HHS guidelines, including contraceptive methods and counseling; annual well-woman preventive examinations; counseling for sexually transmitted infections; counseling and screening for HIV; screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence; breast-feeding support, supplies and counseling; and screening for gestational diabetes.
According to an HHS press release, the new regulations go into effect Aug. 1, 2012, and will require all new health plans to include these services without cost sharing for insurance policies with plan years beginning on or after the effective date.
“Plans will retain the flexibility to control costs and promote efficient delivery of care by, for example, continuing to charge cost-sharing for branded drugs if a generic version is available and is just as effective and safe for the patient to use,” the HHS release states.
Religious institutions that provide health coverage for employees will not be required to offer the contraception services.
Alison Gaulden, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood in northern Nevada, called the new regulations “a game-changer for women’s health.”
“Tens of thousands of women in Washoe County alone need access and coverage,” Gaulden said.
More than half of women between the ages of 18 and 34 in Nevada reported having a hard time affording birth control at one time or another, Gaulden said.
“In Nevada in 2008, 142,000 women who needed birth control couldn’t afford it,” Gaulden said. “And that was only at the beginning of the recession. I’d hate to guess what that number is now.”
Increasing access to birth control will decrease the number of unintended pregnancies, resulting in cost savings for insurance companies, Gaulden said. Fewer unintended pregnancies also will translate to fewer abortions.
“The benefits are huge,” Gaulden said. “Women will be healthier overall.”
Contraceptives are prescribed for medical purposes other than for birth control. According to the website for the Center for Young Women’s Health, www.youngwomenshealth.org, contraceptive pills can be used to alleviate symptoms associated with polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis and menstrual complications, such as cramping and excessive bleeding. Contraception also can relieve acne.
Gaulden said offering contraceptive and preventive services at no cost to the insured will reverse a disturbing trend of women putting off check-ups because of expense.
“As early as 2008, data showed one in five women were postponing their annual exams because of the cost,” Gaulden said. “We have closed a health center because women weren’t coming in.”
Annual exams are necessary to detect and treat cancer and diseases in early stages, she said.
“Insurance companies will pay for your cancer treatment,” Gaulden said, but it makes more sense to pay for the preventive screenings.
Gaulden said she has yet to hear any opposition to the new regulations, even from insurance providers.
“It would be hard for insurance companies to argue because birth control is cheaper than pregnancy,” she said.
According to a 2011 Thomson Reuters National Public Radio health poll, American consumers are broadly in favor of oral contraceptive coverage by both private and government-subsidized health insurance plans. The poll, released in June, found that 77 percent of respondents believe private insurance should cover most or all cost of oral contraceptives, and 74 percent believe government-subsidized insurance plans should cover birth control pills.