HHS Affirms Contraception as Covered Preventive Service

By Rachel Walden — January 20, 2012

Today, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement finalizing the rule that requires insurance plans to provide coverage for contraception without charging a co-pay, co-insurance or a deductibles.

It wasn’t always a sure deal. Back in August, HHS adopted the Institute of Medicine’s recommendation to include family-planning services as one of the preventive health care items for women that must be covered by newly issued health plans, but it was only an interim rule, subject to comments.

In November, there was a lot of worry about whether the decision that contraception should be a covered preventive service under the Affordable Care Act would survive. President Obama met with Roman Catholic bishops, and one of them came away saying, “I left there feeling a bit more at peace about this issue than when I entered.”

Understandably, many people expressed concerns that the administration was going to back away from birth control coverage requirements and broaden the refusal rule to allow Catholic hospitals and universities to refuse to cover family planning services. But the administration rejected calls allowing employers to opt out of covering contraception. The statement by Sebelius reads in part:

After evaluating comments, we have decided to add an additional element to the final rule. Nonprofit employers who, based on religious beliefs, do not currently provide contraceptive coverage in their insurance plan, will be provided an additional year, until August 1, 2013, to comply with the new law. Employers wishing to take advantage of the additional year must certify that they qualify for the delayed implementation. This additional year will allow these organizations more time and flexibility to adapt to this new rule. We intend to require employers that do not offer coverage of contraceptive services to provide notice to employees, which will also state that contraceptive services are available at sites such as community health centers, public clinics, and hospitals with income-based support. We will continue to work closely with religious groups during this transitional period to discuss their concerns.

Scientists have abundant evidence that birth control has significant health benefits for women and their families, it is documented to significantly reduce health costs, and is the most commonly taken drug in America by young and middle-aged women. This rule will provide women with greater access to contraception by requiring coverage and by prohibiting cost sharing.

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