Short Takes On News & Events

Free Birth Control For Many, Courtesy of HHS

By Jenny Gold

August 1st, 2011, 11:40 AM

With co-payments of $10 to $35 a month, birth control pills can add up to an expensive precaution for American women, even those with private insurance. But a new rule issued today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services makes those fees a worry of the past for many insured women.

Photo by Ceridwen via Flickr

Under the health overhaul passed by Congress last year, private insurers will now be required to provide women with a whole range of preventive services, including birth control, without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or deductible.

That means you, your girlfriend, wife, sister and friends who have private insurance plans can get any contraceptive approved by the Food and Drug Administration including sterilization procedures, with the insurance plan picking up the entire cost. Condoms also are included on the FDA list of contraceptives, although the new rules on coverage only apply to contraceptives that are prescribed by a physician.

The HHS decision to require insurers to cover contraception proved controversial, with anti-abortion groups arguing that contraception is against the religious beliefs of some Americans, and that some forms of emergency contraception, including Plan B, are akin to early abortion.  The final HHS decision was based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, an independent and well-respected research organization, but includes a special amendment allowing religious institutions that offer health insurance to their employees to opt out of the contraception requirement.

These rules also do not apply to plans offered by large companies that self-insure and have been grandfathered under the law. The rules also have no effect on the cost of contraception for women without insurance.

The new HHS rule also requires that women older than 30 be eligible to receive free tests for human papillomavirus along with their annual Pap smears to detect cervical cancer. Screening for HPV, the virus that causes cervical and other cancers, can increase the chances of identifying women at risk and providing early treatment.

Other preventive services that will be offered with no co-pay include:

  • Annual preventive care visits that include preconception and prenatal care.
  • Screening for gestational diabetes.
  • 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.

The new rule will take effect for private insurance plans beginning on or after August 1, 2012.

NARAL, an organization that advocates for women’s reproductive rights, including abortion, created a handy calculator that tells you how much you might save on birth control.

This posting was updated at 3:12 p.m.

10 Responses to “Free Birth Control For Many, Courtesy of HHS”

  1. Debbie Smith says:

    “Free” looks to be misleading here, since premiums are paid for coverage – thus, not “free.”

  2. Dave G says:

    I believe one line is incorrect, or misleading, here:

    “These rules also do not apply to plans offered by large companies that self-insure and have been grandfathered under the law.”

    I am pretty sure the preventive services provision applies to non-grandfathered self-insured plans (you should fact-check that, though the Self-Insurance Institute of America appears to agree: ).

    This statement implies that self-insured plans are all grandfathered, which is incorrect.

  3. Dave G says:

    (Clarification on the above: the issue is that self-insured plans may be grandfathered, but so can fully-insured plans, it has nothing to do with funding structure. It is not by virtue of being self-insured that a plan would be grandfathered and not subject to this provision.)

  4. kiara sands says:

    Wow so this means medicines cost nothing labor cost nothing or does this mean that the taxpayers will get to pay more! wonderful.. of course healthcare is free to so many now as long as you are here unlawfully. Just like Washington keep all the voters happy but poor.

  5. WANDA says:

    Making progress…not fast or fair enough for many…but it’s progress.

  6. Paul says:

    So one unelected, unaccountable bureaucrat can decide, with the wave of her omnipotent hand, what the benefits should be for tens of millions of health insurance subscribers across the nation. Thank God Drew Altman just assured us that PPACA isn’t a government takeover . . .

  7. Craig says:

    But uninsured don’t get any help?

  8. WellRead29 says:

    Many aspects of the PPACA target gender neutrality: underwriting rules, allocation of health resources, provision of healthcare in FQHC’s, etc.

    I’m awaiting the male version of this new freebie and my authorization of a free vasectomy and lifetime supply of condoms.

    It’s only fair, after all.


  9. Richard Quinn says:

    So you think paying $20 a month for contraceptives is a financial burden or even an insurable risk? This is why health insurance is so expensive we think someone else should pay for everything even expenses that are not medical care, are not expensive and can be initiated solely by the insured.

    By this reasoning auto insurance should pay for an oil change. Plans cover this expense routinely now, there is no reason to make it free at the expense not of insurance companies but all insured individuals.

  10. Hannah P says:

    If this only applies to prescriptions, why is Plan B which is OTC included? And why have they not taken into account that for some women condoms are the best option not just for preventing pregnancy but also the most effective barrier method for preventing transmission of STIs? It’s good to offer STI counseling, but why not back it up?