The National Academy of Sciences recommended Tuesday that all health insurance plans be required to cover a wide range of preventive services, including free contraceptives for women, under President Obama’s health care overhaul.
To reduce unintended pregnancies, a 16-member panel from the academy’s Institute of Medicine said that insurers should cover the full range of contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as sterilization procedures and ”œeducation and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”
The panel said insurers should be forbidden to charge co-payments for these services because even small charges could deter their use. Defending its recommendation, the panel said that nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States were unintended, and that about 40 percent of unintended pregnancies ended in abortion. Thus, it said, greater use of contraception would reduce the rates of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy and abortion.
Moreover, the panel said, ”œcontraception is highly cost-effective,” saving far more than it costs.
The new health care law says insurers must cover ”œpreventive health services,” and cannot charge for them. The Obama administration asked the Institute of Medicine ”” a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization ”” to help identify the specific services that must be covered for women.
Under the law, the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, will decide what to include in the minimum package of essential health benefits that must be covered by all insurers.
Accepting the report Tuesday, Ms. Sebelius, said: ”œThis report is historic. Before today, guidelines regarding women’s health and preventive care did not exist. These recommendations are based on science and existing literature.”
”œWe are one step closer to saying goodbye to an era when simply being a woman is treated as a pre-existing condition,” Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland. ”œWe are saying hello to an era where decisions about preventive care and screenings are made by a woman and her doctor, not by an insurance company.”
The panel also said the government should require all health plans to cover seven other preventive services for women, including screening to detect domestic violence; screening for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS; and counseling to promote breastfeeding. In addition, the panel said that all insurers should be required to cover the cost of rental fees for breast pumps.