Diet and exercise is a central component to women’s well-being. Yet many women overlook – or simply can’t afford – key preventative services that keep them in optimal health and which aid in the early detection of disease.
Routine check-ups seem like common sense, but the cost of doctor’s visits and screenings can take a toll on the wallet. Studies show that half of women have either put off or avoided preventative care because of high costs.
But thanks to a new provision within the Affordable Care Act, that kicked in just this month, women can now access preventative services without having to shell out the big bucks to cover high insurance co-pays.
Beginning in August, new health plans will be required to cover preventative services, including birth control and cancer screenings. One of the most popular – and controversial – of these benefits includes free birth control. (To catch up on the contraception debate, read Danika Quinn’s article "Game Change: Women v. Men in the Contraception Debate
According to estimates, 47 million women will benefit from the additional coverage. So what do you need to know to take advantage of new health benefits? Read on!Who Gets Covered?
All new insurance policies that are sold to individuals and companies, starting August 1, must offer women’s preventative benefits. This also includes any insurance policies that are renewed after the August start date.The Fine Print
If you don’t have insurance you won’t suddenly get coverage. And if you are already insured, you may have to wait to see these new benefits kick in. The new preventative service package only applies to plans that begin on August 1 of this year
. If you aren’t insured and not currently on Medicaid you may have to wait until 2014 to access these services.
If you receive your health care through a religious school or institution, the new rules may not apply for another year, and your plan may be exempt from covering birth control. Make sure to check with your insurance company and read the fine print to see when your benefits take effect. What Services Can I Access?
While the topic of birth control has grabbed national headlines, there are a number of new services available that will improve women’s health under the Affordable Care Act’s provisions.
A Closer Look at the Contraception Debate
- Annual well-woman visit: Women will be able to get one annual exam with their doctor for routine check-ups and tests.
- Testing for cervical cancer: While many women get normal results from their annual pap tests, over 12,000 will develop cervical cancer this year. The new health law expands this screening. Women 30 and older can get DNA tests to see if they have HPV (one of the leading causes of cervical cancer).
- Gestational diabetes screening: Those that are expecting or are at risk for developing gestational diabetes will get a free screening. Gestational diabetes tests are great in detecting future diabetes in women and their children.
- Breastfeeding training and supplies: Another great benefit for expecting mothers is access to trained lactation consultants and materials like breast pumps to help women breastfeed their infants successfully.
- Screening and counseling for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs): Under the new provisions, women will be able to get tests for high-risk STDs like HIV and receive counseling to reduce high-risk behavior.
- Screening and counseling for domestic violence support.
- Contraceptive methods: For the first time, women will be able to receive any FDA-approved contraceptive method, sterilization procedure or counseling free of charge. The contraception mandate of the health care law has sparked a firestorm of controversy between religious groups and advocates of women’s health.
The Affordable Care Act’s provision to provide no-cost birth control became a major political issue earlier this year when conservative and religious groups objected to the new provision.
Religious groups and mainly Catholic institutions felt the new mandate infringed on their religious liberty by forcing them to provide a service that went against key aspects of their faith. The Obama administration compromised with these groups by issuing a one-year exemption to the free contraceptive requirement. These organizations will still be required to offer the other preventative services included under the law.
And while some may fear that free birth control will spur a tidal wave of questionable moral behavior, birth control does offer certain health benefits in addition to preventing unwanted pregnancies. Taking the pill can decrease certain types of cancer, help relieve pain from PMS, reduce the occurrence of ovarian cysts, and even give you better looking skin.
And though there are currently 97 million women in the United States between the ages of 18 and 64, only a small percentage of them will actually get to take part in the free birth control benefit.
Only women who currently have private insurance plans will see any changes to their ability to pay for birth control. That leaves about 19 million women between the ages of 18 and 64 without access to no-cost contraceptive methods.
Women who are enrolled in Medicaid may also experience delays in receiving free birth control, since each state gets to determine if it will offer no-cost contraceptives as part of their program. Currently 28 states offer free contraception methods to those enrolled in their Medicaid programs.
Unfortunately, those who already have insurance may find that their plan has been grandfathered under the Affordable Care Act and will not be able to access free contraception methods unless they change plans.
So unless you are under a new health plan, the odds of being able to walk into a drug store and get free birth control are unlikely. However, as the one-year exemptions expire, more women will be able to take advantage of this new service.
The new preventative services provided under health care reform is a major step in women’s health. By ending out-of-pocket costs, many women can get the care they need without having to choose between paying rent or high doctor’s bills. The result will be an improvement in women’s health and a healthier society.Cited Sources
Appleby, Julie. "Five Questions About The Health Law’s Mandate To Cover Birth Control." Five Questions About The Health Law's Mandate To Cover Birth Control
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Bingham, Amy. "Fact Checking Free Birth Control Day." ABC News
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"What Are the Key Statistics about Cervical Cancer?" What Are the Key Statistics about Cervical Cancer? American Cancer Society,
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"Women's Preventive Services: Required Health Plan Coverage Guidelines." Women's Preventive Services: Required Health Plan Coverage Guidelines
. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, n.d. Web. 17 Aug. 2012. <http://www.hrsa.gov/womensguidelines/>.