The new health care law bars insurers from charging for “preventive health services,” which the nonpartisan, nongovernmental Institute of Medicine yesterday defined to include the full list of FDA-approved contraceptives. Supporters of the recommendations—including obstetricians, gynecologists, pediatricians, public health experts and Democratic women in Congress—hailed the recommendations as the first-ever federal guidelines for women’s health; opponents—including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Family Research Council and Americans United for Life—argued that birth control is not a preventive service like vaccinations or chemotherapy are and that people who have moral or ethical objections to contraceptives shouldn’t be forced to pay premiums for health plans that cover them. Most private insurance includes contraceptive coverage, but co-payments have increased in recent years. The panel argued that even small charges could deter their use and that greater use of contraception would reduce the rates of unintended pregnancy. Nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended and about 40% of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. In addition to birth control, the panel also recommended that all health plans cover screening for H.I.V.; counseling to promote breastfeeding and to cover the cost of rental fees for breast pumps; screening to detect domestic violence; as well as sterilization procedures, education and counseling for all women. How will this revolutionary change in coverage impact American women and the health care industry?
Claire Brindis, a member of the Institute of Medicine’s 16-member panel that made yesterday’s recommendations; she is also a professor of pediatrics and health policy in the Department of Pediatrics and Reproductive Health Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)
Anna Franzonello, staff counsel, Americans United for Life, the first national pro-life organization in the United States
Cindy Pearson, executive director of the National Women’s Health Network, a women’s health advocacy group