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HHS Backs IOM Recommendations on Women's Preventive Services, Announces Exemption for Religious Employers

HHS Backs IOM Recommendations on Women's Preventive Services, Announces Exemption for Religious Employers

August 1, 2011 — The Obama administration on Monday announced that it will adopt an Institute of Medicine panel's recommendations that health plans cover a slate of women's preventive health services, including contraception, without out-of-pocket fees starting next year, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/1). The administration also released an amendment to previously issued regulations that permit religious entities that offer their own health plans to choose whether to cover contraceptive services (HHS release, 8/1).

The federal health reform law (PL 111-148) requires health plans that start on or after Aug. 1, 2012, to cover preventive health services without copayments, co-insurance or deductibles ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/1). HHS asked IOM to determine which women's services should be included in the requirement Last month, an IOM panel recommended that HHS require eight preventive services for women to be covered by all new insurance plans without additional out-of-pocket fees. Besides contraception, the panel recommended coverage for domestic violence screening and counseling services, advanced screenings for cervical cancer and human papillomavirus for women ages 30 and older, counseling for sexually transmitted infections and HIV, screening for gestational diabetes for pregnant women, comprehensive coverage of breastfeeding equipment and support, and at least one annual preventive health exam (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/28).

Religious Exemption

The religious exemption applies to not-for-profit groups that have the inculcation of religious values as their purpose, primarily employ individuals who hold certain religious beliefs and primarily serve a population with those religious tenets, HHS said ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/1). According to an HHS release, the "regulation is modeled on the most common accommodation for churches available in the majority of the 28 states that already require insurance companies to cover contraception." HHS is accepting comments on the proposed amendment (HHS release, 8/1).

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said, "These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature, and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need." Vanessa Cullins, vice president of medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, "Covering birth control without copays is one of the most important steps we can take to prevent unintended pregnancy and keep women and children healthy" (Rice, CNN, 8/1).