Aug. 1, 2012 -- Today ushers in a new provision of the health reform law that makes additional preventive health services -- from contraception to HPV testing -- available for free to an estimated 47 million women.
Women with health plans that start on or after Aug. 1, 2012, must now be allowed access to eight new preventive health services with no co-pays or deductibles. The eight new services available starting today are:
Gestational diabetes screening
Domestic and interpersonal violence screening and counseling
FDA-approved contraception, including contraceptive education and counseling
Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling
HPV DNA testing for women aged 30 or older
Counseling for sexually active women about sexually transmitted infections
HIV screening and counseling for sexually active women
These services build upon a roster of existing preventive care that the health reform law, officially called the Affordable Care Act (ACA), already makes available, free of cost, to people with private insurance and Medicare, including annual wellness visits, cholesterol, and other cardiovascular screenings, and cancer screenings including mammography, colonoscopy, and screening for cervical cancer.
The eight services were recommended to the Department of Health and Human Services by the independent Institute of Medicine after an extensive scientific review.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) hailed the ACA's inclusion of additional women's preventive health services as an important step toward making necessary health care available to more women.
"Today, our nation affirms the importance of a woman's ability to access needed preventive care," ACOG President James T. Breeden, MD, says in a news release. "An annual well-woman visit is a fundamental part of medical care and promotes prevention practices, recognizes risk factors for disease, identifies medical problems, and establishes the often life-long patient-physician relationship. This annual visit provides an excellent opportunity for ob-gyns to counsel patients about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and minimizing health risks."
Breeden adds that contraception, which is already covered by most employer-sponsored plans, plays an important role in optimizing women's health before pregnancy and childbirth, ultimately leading to healthier pregnancies and babies.
The law has always allowed churches and other religious organizations the choice of either buying or sponsoring group health insurance that does not pay for contraception if doing so is counter to their beliefs.
But religious-affiliated groups such as universities and hospitals were not included in this exemption.
This caused an uproar among many religious groups, most notably the Catholic church. The Obama administration says it has a compromise. The insurance companies providing health plans to employers with religious affiliations will be required to cover the cost of contraceptives, not the employer. The Obama administration extended the time until August 2013 for religious institutions to comply with the law.