Next phase of health reform: New and renewed insurance policies will have to cover birth control, other preventive care for women

Even though the decision was widely expected, as part of health care reform, the news is still what Julie Rovner of National Public Radio termed “a pretty big deal.” Earlier this week, she reports, the Department of Health and Human Services adopted in full the women’s health recommendations issued two weeks ago by the independent Institute of Medicine.

“Since birth control is the most common drug prescribed to women ages 18-44, insurance plans should cover it,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a press briefing. “Not doing it would be like not covering flu shots, or any of the other basic preventive services that millions of other Americans count on every day.”

The upshot: Starting a year from now, most new health insurance policies, and eventually almost every policy, will have to offer a comprehensive list of women’s preventive health services with no co-pay or deductible, including all forms of prescription contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration. These services include: Screening for gestational diabetes; counseling about sexually-transmitted infections; support for breast-feeding, including supplies and counseling; and domestic violence screening and counseling.

Rovner reports that “The new rules do take into account the complaints from some conservative and religious groups, by allowing religious organizations that provide health insurance to refrain from offering contraceptive coverage ‘if that is inconsistent with their tenets.’

HHS says that part of its proposal is modeled on the most common exemption used by the 28 states that already require contraceptive coverage to be offered in health insurance policies.

The department, however, is specifically asking the public to comment on that portion of the rules, ‘as we work to strike the balance between providing access to proven prevention and respecting religious beliefs.’ Already the reactions are pouring in.

Some people object to the religious exemption.” (Read more)

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