Independent health panel backs birth control coverage for women

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report this week recommending that birth control as well as other preventive health care services for women be covered at basically no cost under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The recommendations were made to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service (HHS), the agency charged with determining whether women’s health care services are considered preventive care.

The report states

     “The birth control methods, services and education should be available so that women can better avoid unwanted pregnancies and space their pregnancies to promote optimal birth outcomes.”

HHS is expected to make its decision in August of this year. If enacted, the provisions will be welcome news to the three million uninsured California women.

Under the Affordable Care Act, any health care services that are considered preventive care, such as immunizations, mammograms and colonoscopies, are exempt from co-pays or deductibles.  However, ACA also directed HHS to seek input from an independent authority – in this case the IOM – to determine what preventive health care services for women should be covered.

The IOM cited numerous findings in support of its decision:

• 49 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. Women who have unintended pregnancies are less likely to have access to prenatal care and more likely to engage in risky behaviors.

• Birth control helps women space their births which has been shown to help reduce maternal and child mortality.

• Birth control saves money. The cost savings as a result of contraceptive use is estimated at $19 billion annually.

• Coverage of birth control is now standard practice for most private insurance plans and federally funded insurance programs.

• Access to affordable birth control and other preventive care will help women access the birth control method that works best for them.

Furthermore, the IOM recommended that seven additional health care services for women should be covered, including an annually “well woman” visit, breast feeding assistance, HIV testing, cervical cancer screening, counseling for sexually transmitted diseases and domestic violence, as well as diabetes screenings for pregnant women.

All but one of the 16-member panel backed the recommendations.  To review the full report, go here.