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Free birth control — and other breakthroughs in women's health care
New changes to federal health care rules will require insurers to offer a raft of free health services to women
 
New rules from the feds require insurers to completely pay for birth control and other preventative health services.
New rules from the feds require insurers to completely pay for birth control and other preventative health services.
CC BY: Nate Grigg

This week's announcement that the Obama administration's health care reforms will make birth control available without a co-pay met with considerable enthusiasm from women's health advocates. The news followed the Department of Health and Human Services' decision to adopt a recommendation from the Institute of Medicine that encouraged preventative health services for women. Contraceptives, however, are only one part of the new changes to the health care landscape: Women are expected to benefit from a number of additional health care services that most insurers will now be required to offer. Here's what you need to know:

What's changing?
Beyond birth control pills, the list of preventative health services that will be completely covered — with no co-pay or deductible — is impressive. Coverage will now include an annual "well-woman" preventive care visit, diabetes screening during pregnancy, screening for the HPV virus that can cause cervical cancer, support for breast-feeding mothers (including breast pump rental reimbursement), as well as screening and counseling for sexually transmitted infections, HIV infections, and domestic violence.

Is everyone in favor of these changes?
No. The new regulations have met with a whole lot of resistance from some conservative and religious groups, even though faith-based organizations that offer health care to their employees can opt out of providing contraceptive services. "The unfunded mandate of forcing private employers to pay for these good things is socialism, pure and simple," says attorney Harmeet Dhillon, who heads the San Francisco Republican Party, as quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle

When will these changes take effect?
For most insurance companies operating on a calendar-year basis, the new requirements take effect January 1, 2013. For insurance policies beginning on or after Aug. 1, 2012, the new requirements take effect immediately. Some health plans already in place will be temporarily exempt from providing preventative services because of a "grandfather clause," but as these plans are modified over time, they too will have to follow the new requirements.

Sources: Forbes, NY Times, SF Chronicle

 

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