Panel Pushes For Free Insurer Provided Contraceptives

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From The New York Times:

Editorial Board–July 20, 2011

In an encouraging development for women’s health, an advisory panel of leading experts has recommended that all insurers be required to offer contraceptives as well as other preventive services free of charge under the new health care law. The Obama administration seems inclined to follow the advice, which is even better news.

The recommendation by the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine was based on a review of medical data on women’s health services requested by Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services. The administration will use the report to help it identify services for women that all new health plans should cover without deductibles or co-payments. In addition to contraceptives, the panel’s proposed list includes sterilization procedures, annual preventive-care visits, counseling for domestic violence and testing for H.I.V.

In explaining its recommendation for free contraceptives, the panel noted that nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and about 40 percent of those end in abortion. Studies show that cost is a major barrier to regular use of contraceptives for low-income and young women.

Increasing access to contraception would help drive down the rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion, which carry far greater costs than contraception. The federal government, for example, saw no increase in costs after Congress mandated contraceptive coverage for federal employees.

The panel’s recommendation has drawn strong opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and socially conservative groups, like the Family Research Council, which take issue with including contraceptives in the package of preventive health care services. Their objections should not deter the administration from insisting that insurance coverage be guided by medical evidence and what is best for women. The panel’s report offers a sensible road map.

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