August 1, 2012 — Roughly 47 million women nationwide are enrolled in health plans that will begin covering many preventive services without copayments or deductibles under an Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) provision that takes effect on Wednesday, according to an HHS report released on Tuesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The provision applies to health plans issued on or after Wednesday, meaning that women whose coverage does not renew or begin until Jan. 1, 2013, will begin receiving the benefits on that date (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 7/31).
The services include contraceptive services and supplies, 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, 8/1/11).
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed against the contraceptive coverage requirement, which is opposed by religious conservatives (Winfield Cunningham, Washington Times, 7/31). HHS has exempted religious institutions, such as churches and synagogues, from the rules, and it instituted a one-year delay period for religiously affiliated institutions, such as colleges and hospitals, to come into compliance (Norman, CQ HealthBeat, 7/31).
For other employers, the contraceptive coverage requirement is among the rules that take effect Wednesday, except for one private company that won an injunction against the requirement on Friday. The company's Catholic owners argued that they objected to covering contraception because of their religious beliefs (Washington Times, 7/31).
Capitol Hill Press Conference
At a press conference on Tuesday on Capitol Hill, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius highlighted the coverage expansion, NPR's "Shots" reports. Several Democratic senators who voted for the ACA joined Sebelius at the press conference.
Sebelius noted that prior to the ACA's passage, many insurers did not cover basic women's health services, or they charged high deductibles or copays (Rovner, "Shots," NPR, 8/1). "No woman should have to choose between seeing a doctor and putting food on the table for her family," she said, adding that "now many women will not have to make that difficult choice" (Viebeck,"Healthwatch," The Hill, 7/31).
Republicans 'Silent' on Birth Control Issue
Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans remained "comparatively silent," National Journal reports. Although Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday requested that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hold a vote to repeal the ACA, he made no mention of the contraceptive coverage debate. Reid refused to allow the vote (McCarthy, National Journal, 7/31).
Sebelius, Pelosi Credit ACA in USA Today Opinion Piece
In a USA Today opinion piece, Sebelius and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) write, "For too long, insurance companies stacked the deck against women, forcing us to pay more for coverage that didn't meet our needs." They add, "Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, a new day for women's health has arrived" (Sebelius/Pelosi, USA Today, 7/31).