Birth control could become free for all health plans

The Pill (s)

Birth control bills could be covered if the Institute of Medicine panel recommendation is followed. Image: brains the head/Flickr/CC BY

A panel of well-respected medical experts recommended to the U.S. Department of Health Tuesday that virtually all health insurance plans should by law include free birth control for women. If the recommendation is adopted, it could mean one less worry for families struggling to get by in the economic downturn.

A part of health care reform

The health care law adopted by the White House last year, frequently referred to as Obamacare, requires the administration to come up with a list of health services to be covered for all women without deductibles or co-payments. To that end, the administration commissioned the Institute of Medicine panel to make recommendations.

Recommendations not binding

In addition to prescription birth control medicine, the committee also suggested paying for breast pump rentals, domestic violence counseling, HIV tests and wellness exams. With health costs beyond the reach of many, this recommendation could help ease the financial burden on some women, couples and families in our stagnant economy.

While the findings of the committee are not binding, the recommendations will be taken into serious consideration by Human Health Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who will release the proposed regulations very soon.

Controversial recommendations

The findings of the committee, though not unexpected, could cause controversy among certain groups. The Family Research Council, for instance, contends that individuals and groups who have a religious opposition to birth control should not be forced to help fund it with increased insurance premiums.

“This is a question of whether the government should mandate every health plan to cover these drugs free of cost,” said Family Research Council’s Jeanne Monahan. “Whatever one’s position is on the issues of contraceptives, abortifacients and such, it does not matter whether proponents of such drugs do not care about the effect on human embryos. The point is that many Americans do care, and many religious health plans would care, and that they should not be forced to violate their conscience.”

Speaking out for women’s health

Other groups, however, are hailing the recommendations as a triumph for women nationwide.

“As someone who has worked on women’s rights for nearly 30 years, I can say that today’s news marks one of the biggest advances for women’s health in a generation,” said NARAL president Nancy Keenan. “Currently, nearly one in three women finds it difficult to pay for birth control, and that’s why the United States has a far higher unintended-pregnancy rate than other industrialized countries. Making family-planning services available at no cost will help millions of women prevent unintended pregnancy and thereby reduce the need for abortion.”


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