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Insurers must cover birth control with no copays

August 1, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Health insurance plans must cover birth control as preventive care for women, with no copays, the Obama administration said Monday.

The requirement is part of a broad expansion of coverage for women's preventive care under President Barack Obama's health care law.

In one year, all private health insurance plans will be required to cover women's preventive services without a co-pay or deductible. The White House says the move is intended to help women avoid health problems before they start.

"Half of the women, according to studies, forgo or delay preventive care because they can't afford it," said White House advisor Stephanie Cutter.

The new FDA guidelines, included in the new health care law, forces insurance companies to cover all "well-woman" visits, screening for gestational diabetes, breast-feeding support, domestic violence screening and all FDA-approved birth control methods, including emergency contraception like the highly controversial morning after pill.

The FDA classifies Plan B and Ella as birth control, but some religious conservatives see the morning-after drugs as abortion drugs. The rules HHS issued Monday do not require coverage of RU-486 and other drugs to chemically induce an abortion.

"These historic guidelines are based on science and existing (medical) literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need," said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

In a nod to social and religious conservatives, the rules issued by Sebelius include a provision that would allow religious institutions to opt out of offering birth control coverage.

The new requirements will take effect Jan. 1, 2013, in most cases. Over time, they are expected to apply to most employer-based insurance plans, as well as coverage purchased individually.

In the long term, government health experts say investing in prevention will being down health care costs, but in the short term, experts say premiums will likely go up.

The announcement comes after a recommendation from a panel of experts convened by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, which advises the government.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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