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Ladies: More medical care without health insurance co-pays coming in 2012

Birth control will be free to millions of insured women next year under new health insurance guidelines issued by federal officials.

New health insurance plans will have to cover birth control and other women's preventive services without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible, with plan years starting on or after Aug. 1, 2012.

women's health insuranceThe coverage stems from a provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires health plans to cover preventive services 100 percent. The newest guidelines, developed by the Institute of Medicine, say fully covered preventive services for women must include birth control and contraceptive counseling as well as:

  • Well-woman visits
  • Screening for gestational diabetes
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing for women age 30 and older
  • Sexually-transmitted infection counseling
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening and counseling
  • Breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling
  • Domestic violence screening and counseling.

Health insurance co-pays for birth control pills generally range between $15 and $50 per month, and other methods, such as IUDs, can cost several hundred dollars, even with insurance, according to Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

"Covering birth control without co-pays is one of the most important steps we can take to prevent unintended pregnancy and keep women and children healthy," said Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement.

Most Americans support health insurance coverage for birth control pills. According to a recent Thomson Reuters-NPR survey, 77 percent said they believed private medical insurance should cover the cost, and 74 percent said government-sponsored insurance should cover the pill.

Crying foul

While many women's and consumer health advocacy groups praised the new rules, some religious groups and conservatives cried foul.

Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King implied the new rules could spell the end of civilization.

"If you apply that preventive medicine universally, what you end up with is you've prevented a generation," he said on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. "Preventing babies from being born is not medicine. That's not constructive to our culture and our civilization. If we let our birth rate get down below the replacement rate, we're a dying civilization."

Federal officials proposed a conscience clause for religious organizations that offer insurance to their employees, letting them choose whether to offer no-cost coverage for contraception services. Reproductive rights groups objected to the clause, and religious organizations said it wasn't broad enough.

"As we well know, religious adherents use birth control at the same rate as the general population," Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. "Individuals, not institutions, should make the personal decision about their use of health care and their own conscience."

The Catholic Health Association said the clause was too narrow to protect Catholic hospitals. "It is critical that we be allowed to serve our nation without compromising our conscience," said Sister Carol Keehan, the association's president and CEO.

The Department of Health and Human Services will accept comments on the exemption policy before issuing a final rule.

The new health insurance coverage guidelines geared specifically to women are in addition to rules federal health officials issued last summer that require all new private health plans to cover preventive services like mammograms, colonoscopies, blood pressure checks, well-child visits and childhood immunizations without charging a co-payment, deductible or co-insurance.

More from Barbara Marquand here

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