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At-a-Glance: Free Preventive Health Care for Women

Folic Acid: Just in Case

What it's for: Folic acid helps prevent possible serious birth defects. Your doctor can prescribe folic acid supplements for you to take at no cost.

You should take folic acid even if you don't plan to become pregnant and are using birth control.

Who needs it and how often: All women who could become pregnant need to take folic acid every day. You should take 400-800 mcg every day in a multivitamin even if you aren't planning to get pregnant, and even if you're using birth control. You can become pregnant and not know it, so it's best to be cautious.

Gonorrhea Test

What it's for: For this exam, you give a urine sample to be checked for the STD gonorrhea. In some cases, your doctor may test a sample from your vagina.

How often: Experts recommend getting checked at your annual physical exam for women who are high risk.

Osteoporosis Exam

What it's for: Not everyone needs this test.To see how strong your bones are, your doctor will take an X-ray of your bones. Weak bones that break easily are signs of osteoporosis.

Who needs it & how often:

Syphilis Test

What it's for: Syphilis is a type of STD that can cause long-lasting damage. Your doctor can check to see if you have it with a simple blood test.

Who needs it & how often: Not all women need this test. If you have a high chance for having syphilis, your doctor will check you each year at your annual exam. If you're pregnant, you'll be checked at your first prenatal exam.

Well-Woman Visits

What it's for: Seeing your doctor once a year, even when you're not sick, can help you stay healthy.

During a well-woman visit, you can talk with your doctor about any concerns and about your health goals. You'll also talk about other tests you may need.

During a well-woman exam, your doctor may ask you questions about:

  • Your health habits, such as whether you drink alcohol or smoke
  • Your personal and family medical history
  • Diet and exercise habits
  • Your relationships
  • Your sexual partners

You will also have a physical exam, which may include:

  • Blood pressure
  • Breast exam
  • Height and weight
  • Pelvic exam

How often: Every year for women under 65.

Note About Costs

Most plans provide preventive care at no cost to you. That means you don't have to pay any copays, coinsurance, or deductibles to get this care.

Keep in mind that these tests need to look for something before you have symptoms in order to be free. Your doctor can use one of these same tests to help diagnose something when you have symptoms. When a test is used for diagnostic reasons and not preventive ones, it isn't free.

For example, you can have a colonoscopy to check for colon cancer -- that's free. But if your doctor schedules a colonoscopy to see why you're bleeding, it is not considered a preventive test, so it won't be free.

What plans don't have to provide free preventive care? Grandfathered health plans: Those older plans that existed before March 2010. Still, some grandfathered health plans are choosing to offer free preventive care. Check your plan's summary of benefits to know for sure what's covered and at what cost.

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