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U.S. Panel Recommends Free Coverage of Birth Control

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, July 19 (HealthDay News) -- Women in the United States could have their birth control covered by insurance companies, free of co-pays, if provisions of a new report are enacted as part of last year's landmark health-reform law.

That is one of eight recommendations in the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report that looks to expand preventive services for women under the 2010 law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The report was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to identify "gaps in preventive services for women as well as measures that will further ensure women's health and well-being," the agency said.

"This report provides a road map for improving the health and well-being of women," committee chair Linda Rosenstock, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of California, Los Angeles, said in a statement. "The eight services we identified are necessary to support women's optimal health and well-being. Each recommendation stands on a foundation of evidence supporting its effectiveness."

The new recommendations were based on a review of guidelines and the effectiveness of various preventive services, the committee said.

By adding birth control to the list of recommendations, the committee said it hopes to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies, which make up almost half of all pregnancies in the United States.

Reaction to the IOM's recommendation varied.

"Millions of women, especially young women, struggle every day to afford prescription birth control," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. "Today's recommendation brings us a step closer to ensuring that all newly insured women under the health care reform law will have access to prescription birth control without out-of-pocket expenses."

But Jeanne Monahan, director of Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity, said: "Several drugs have been approved by the FDA to be legally categorized as 'emergency contraceptives,' despite functioning in ways that can destroy a preborn baby before or after implanting in the mother's womb. A federal mandate to all insurance plans to include drugs such as ella essentially would mandate coverage for abortion."

Besides insurance coverage for contraception, the committee also recommends patient education and counseling for all women of reproductive age.

The report said many women with unintended pregnancies aren't likely to receive prenatal care, are more likely to smoke, more likely to be depressed and more likely to be victims of domestic violence during pregnancy.

Unintended pregnancy also increases the risk for a preterm delivery or a low birth-weight infant. Both these conditions increase the risk for health and developmental problems for a child, the report said.

In addition to insurance coverage for birth control, the committee is recommending:

  • Screening for diabetes.
  • Testing for the human papillomavirus as part of cervical cancer screening.
  • Counseling about sexually transmitted infections.
  • Counseling and screening for HIV.
  • Counseling on breast-feeding and breast-feeding equipment.
  • Counseling on interpersonal and domestic violence.
  • Yearly preventive care visits to recommended preventive services.

Women need more preventive care due to pregnancy and other conditions, which can leave them with more out-of-pocket costs than men. So, adding these services to preventive care can help level the field with men when it comes to costs, the committee said.

The final decision on whether to adopt the new recommendations will rest with the Department of Health and Human Services. The Institute of Medicine is an independent panel of experts that advises the federal government on issues of medicine and health.

More information

For more on preventive care, visit

SOURCES: July 19, 2011, Institute of Medicine report, Clinical Preventive Services for Women: Closing the Gaps; July 19, 2011, news release, Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity; July 19, 2011, news release, Planned Parenthood

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