Millions of women across the country will gain free access to preventive health measures through a component of President Obama’s health care reform law that goes into effect today.
Health insurance companies now must offer eight key health services to women free of charge with no deductible or copay on their plans’ next renewal date.
Services include well-woman visits; contraceptives and counseling; gestational diabetes screenings; human papillomavirus testing; counseling for sexually transmitted infections; counseling and screening for human-immune deficiency virus; breast-feeding supplies; support and counseling; and domestic violence counseling.
Before the law, many health insurance companies did not cover these services or charged copays that discouraged women from getting preventive care or preventing unwanted pregnancies, some experts say.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 47 million women are enrolled in health care plans that fall under the new requirements. The only insurers exempt are health plans that have maintained grandfathered status and certain nonprofit religious organizations.
Obama’s health care law has taken special focus on preventive care to screen early for disease and prevent costly treatment in the future.
After The Affordable Care Act was passed in March 2010, other basic services such as mammograms and screenings for cervical cancer became automatically covered under health plans with no cost to patients.
Dr. Lawrence Layman, Georgia Health Sciences University’s chief of the section of reproductive endocrinology, infertility and genetics in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, called the preventive care component “a tremendous opportunity” for women.
“I really think we have to go in this direction of preventative medicine to make a difference in health care,” Layman said. “This way, you can pick up things sooner and hopefully see people before they have problems that are further developed ... I think it’s going to, in the long run, reduce costs.”
Layman said free well-woman visits will give women access to annual
physicals and pap smears, which can detect abnormal cells before they become cancer.
Access to birth control has health benefits beyond family planning, Layman said. Contraceptives lower a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and reduce bleeding and anemia, he said.
According to HealthCare.gov, women will have access to all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives but not drugs that can induce abortions.
Trinity Hospital gynecologist Theresa Christie was wary about the legislation’s impact, however. Christie said many American women are already receiving the services covered completely by insurance or with an affordable copay.
She said the changes must not come in health care, but in health insurance. Insurance premiums have “increased by double digits since all this got started,” Christie said.
She called the new free services a “smokescreen” because women must already have insurance to take advantage of the free services, and their plans most likely already covered those items.
“They’re trying to make it sound like it’s free health care, but no health care is free – not in any country in the world,” Christie said. “Whether you’re paying a copay or a quote-unquote health care tax like they do in Europe, you’re paying something.”
As far as the no-copay birth control, Christie said “I’ll believe it when I see it.”