The Affordable Care Act: A Champion for Women's Preventive Health

This is the second post in a weekly “Did You Know” blog series that will highlight important, but not well known features of the health reform law about prevention, wellness, and personal responsibility for our health. 

Did you know that insurance companies will soon be required to cover women’s preventive health services like birth control and annual gynecological visits free of co-pay?

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), under the guidelines of the Affordable Care Act, announced this summer that starting in August, 2012 (for new or “non-grandfathered” plans), insurance companies will have to cover a set of women’s preventive health services free of cost-sharing (i.e., co-payments, deductibles, or the use of co-insurance). These services are in addition to the set of preventive benefits for all adults that health insurance companies are already required to cover without cost-sharing in the private market (at least those with “non-grandfathered” plans), all thanks to the Affordable Care Act.

The women’s preventive health services included in the rule are:

  • Well-woman visits
  • Screening for gestational diabetes
  • HPV DNA testing for women 30 years and older
  • STI counseling
  • HIV screening and counseling
  • FDA-approved contraceptives and contraceptive counseling
  • Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling
  • Domestic violence screening and counseling

There are a couple of important exemptions that come with this new rule. Insurance plans with “grandfathered” status will not be required to cover these benefits free of co-pay in 2012. The rule only applies to new plans, or those that have lost their “grandfathered” status. If you are unsure whether or not your plan is new or grandfathered, ask your insurer or your employer if you have coverage through work. You can find more information on grandfathered vs. non-grandfathered plans online.

The other exemption to this new rule, which is still being considered by HHS, involves religiously affiliated places of work and the mandate to provide coverage for birth control. Controversial in nature, the proposed religious exemption has recently become the center of debate. The exemption would allow religiously affiliated institutions that oppose birth control and offer employer coverage to refrain from providing contraceptive benefits. This means that millions of women working for religiously affiliated institutions, including places of work like hospitals and schools, may face barriers to accessing affordable FDA-approved family planning methods, which is a concern for women’s rights advocates across the country.  

Quick Fact: Speaking of women’s preventive health, did you know that health reform is already working to increase women’s access to ob-gyns?  Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, women no longer have to get a referral from their doctor before seeing a gynecologist no matter what kind of insurance they have! This consumer protection applies to all women and has been in effect since September 23, 2010.

This blog post was coauthored by Rachel Gielau.                                      

Interested in an in-person presentation on how health reform is rolling out in Illinois and what it means for individuals?  Are you a direct service provider or advocate for vulnerable populations and interested in how the Affordable Care Act will impact the population you serve?  Rachel Gielau, health policy expert at the Shriver Center, is giving free in-person presentations to Illinois audiences on how health reform is affecting individual and families in Illinois. Contact Rachel Gielau at 312-368-1154 to set up a presentation for your organization!



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