Today’s release of guidelines for health services that need to be covered in health insurance plans at no additional cost took a big step forward for women in the United States. Despite outcry from some on the far right, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) used the recommendations developed by the Institutes of Medicine, keeping health front and center, rather than politics. Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius reinforced this point in the release of the guidelines, stating, “These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need.”
Currently, many health insurance plans in the United States don’t include coverage for preventive health care that is both less costly and better for individuals. The provision in the Affordable Care Act calling for coverage of no-cost preventive health services left the decisions about what these services should be to experts – a far better decision than duking it out among elected officials.
The preventive services that will need to be in health insurance policies at no additional cost to individuals before or after August 1, 2012 include:
- well-woman visits;
- screening for gestational diabetes;
- human papillomavirus (HPV) 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; and
- domestic violence screening and counseling.
The one downside is that this is not entirely universal coverage. Religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees will have the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services. According to HHS this exemption is modeled on the most common accommodation for churches available in the majority of the 28 states that already require insurance companies to cover contraception. We’ll keep you updated on opportunities for advocacy on this issue.