Covering contraception

With all that’s going in DC right now, a story like this won’t make front pages, but it’s going to make a big difference in the lives of many Americans, and the Obama administration deserves a lot of credit for making it happen.

If you’ve ever had to endure fluctuating birth control prices, the hunt for the generic or the hassle of the monthly refill, take heart: The Department of Health and Human services is now recommending that birth control be covered by insurance plans under preventive care.

This news is a historic development in the debate over women’s health care. The new guidelines take effect today, just over a month after a committee of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine recommended that prescription birth control, breast-pump rentals, counseling for domestic violence and annual wellness exams and HIV tests be covered by virtually all insurance plans.

Plans beginning on or after August 1, 2012 will cover birth control and other preventative services, including voluntary sterilization, and the new requirements will take effect Jan. 1, 2013, in most cases.

The Affordable Care Act already requires insurers to cover “preventive health services” for free, and this new policy is part of a process that defines what those services will include.

Also note, this isn’t just about contraception. As Igor Volsky noted, HHS is also requiring free coverage of human papillomavirus testing; HIV screening; breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling; and domestic violence screening and counseling.

This is a very big deal. As Pema Levy recently explained, “It’s hard to stress just how big a deal these changes will be. Advocates have been fighting for universal contraceptive access for decades, and in a year when access to preventative care has been severely rolled back, it’s a rare and important win for women.”

And without the Affordable Care Act, this wouldn’t even be a possibility.