Birth control for "free" under ACA changes

August 2, 2011 Denise Kolpack

It's being called a milestone in women's health and a significant shift in the way health insurance is handled for tens of millions of women, while others find the news unsettling.

Yesterday's announcement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) "will ensure women receive preventive health services at no additional cost," according to its news release.

New, no-cost services

These health services covered under Affordable Care Act (ACA) guidelines include the following:

  • well-woman visits
  • screening for gestational diabetes
  • human papillomavirus DNA testing for women 30 years and older
  • sexually-transmitted infection counseling
  • human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening and counseling
  • FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling
  • breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling
  • domestic violence screening and counseling

This announcement is part of the continued rollout of guidelines regarding minimum health benefits to be covered by health insurers under ACA. While there may be short-term cost increases or higher premiums, the goal is to hold down long-term costs by preventing disease.

Birth control controversy

The seemingly most controversial of services to be covered with no cost-sharing from the insured (meaning no copay, deductible or coinsurance) revolves around contraception methods, or birth control choices.

According to the New York Times, a number of groups, including the Family Research Council and the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops "have strenuously opposed any requirement for coverage of contraceptives."

While many others, supporters of the new requirement, say it would "go a long way toward removing cost as a barrier to birth control, a longtime goal of advocates for women's rights and experts on women's health," according to the New York Times. In addition, the guidelines would "bring fairness to the health insurance market for women," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

One year away

The new ruling from HHS will take effect for all new or renewing health plans after Aug. 1, 2012. Health plans that existed prior to the ACA law being adopted in 2010 (grandfathered plans) are exempt from covering these services. Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota is reviewing the ruling and what impact it will have on its members.

After seeing this news, what is your reaction?