The Obama administration announced on Monday that health insurance plans must cover birth control with no copays, among other reproductive health care services, as preventative care for women. The requirement will apply to health care plans beginning on or after August 1, 2012. The announcement comes just a month after Health and Human Services released a recommendation that sought to expand preventative services for women under Obama's health care law.
In addition to birth control, the expansion will cover breast pumps for nursing mothers, an annual "well-woman" physical, including screening for the virus that causes cervical cancer, HIV, and gestational diabetes, as well as counseling for domestic violence.
The guidelines, which were released by Health and Human Services, are based on a scientific review conducted by the Institute of Medicine, an independent, nonprofit organization that gives advice to decision makers and the public. By adding birth control to the list of recommended preventative services, the committee hopes to reduce the rate of unintended pregnancies, which compose almost half of all pregnancies in the United States.
"The committee defined preventive health services as measures — including medications, procedures, devices, tests, education and counseling — shown to improve well-being, and/or decrease the likelihood or delay the onset of a targeted disease or condition," said the report's authors.
They argue that birth control methods, services, and education should be available "so that women can better avoid unwanted pregnancies and space their pregnancies to promote optimal birth outcomes," according to the Institute of Medicine.
Indeed, a recent survey found that 78 percent of Americans "believe the federal government should subsidize birth control and other family planning services, excluding abortion, at government-funded clinics for low-income women."
While the recommendations received a generally positive reception, it was met with criticism by faith-based groups and conservatives who view contraception use as akin to abortion.
Jeanne Monahan, director of Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity, said: "Several drugs have been approved by the FDA to be legally categorized as 'emergency contraceptives,' despite functioning in ways that can destroy a preborn baby before or after implanting in the mother's womb. A federal mandate to all insurance plans to include [these drugs] ... essentially would mandate coverage for abortion."
In an effort to appease faith-based groups, the Obama administration incorporated an exception to the law that would allow "religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services."