Additional women’s sexual, reproductive health services to be covered under insurance

Liz Farmer

Women’s health advocates are celebrating a new set of guidelines from the Obama Administration that require insurance providers to cover a slew of sexual, reproductive and mental health services for women.

For all new and renewed policies, insurance providers will be required to waive co-pays for contraception, women’s health visits, domestic violence counseling, sexually transmitted disease screening and support for breast-feeding equipment because of guidelines adopted by the Department of Health and Human Services. The nonpartisan Institute of Medicine proposed the guidelines, which go into effect August 2012.

This additional health insurance reform is part of the Affordable Care Act President Obama signed into law March 23, 2010. Other items that require coverage under the act include mammograms, colonoscopies, blood pressure checks and childhood immunizations.

It is unclear how the changes will affect insurance premiums or health care providers and pharmacies, such as the University Health Center, that may rely on co-pays as a source of funding.

Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services, said in a press release the new guidelines will help women get the preventative health benefits they need.

Texas Feminists President Jenny Kutner, a Plan II and women’s and gender studies senior, said the act provides relief after a state legislative session that reduced access to women’s health with a bill requiring women to undergo sonograms and hear a description of the fetus before they can get an abortion.

“I think [these guidelines are] necessary especially in the current political climate around reproductive health,” Kutner said. “It currently seems like a war on women.”

Alumna Anna Sallack was in the Catholic sorority Mu Epsilon Theta and said the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception is difficult to summarize, but she believes it is wrong to use contraception to prevent new life. She also said she is disappointed there’s not emphasis on multiple prevention methods including abstinence.

“I would be more pleased with it if there was a pro-life versus pro-choice aspect to it,” Sallack said.

Out-of-pocket co-pays for contraception can run from $25 to $35, according to Sarah Wheat, interim Co-CEO for Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region.

“I think it’s incredibly positive news for women’s health,” Wheat said.

Wheat said women have historically paid 65 percent more for health care out-of-pocket than men because pregnancy planning is not covered by insurance.

“For decades, contraception has been treated as something outside the health care system,” Wheat said. “So with these guidelines, contraception and women’s health are being mainstreamed.”

LeAnn Gutierrez, assistant director for University Health Services, said the lowered costs are good because accessibility to women’s health services has been reduced because of decreases in state funding over the past few years.

“Anytime an insurance company is waiving co-payments, it is an awesome benefit for our students,” Wheat said. “Especially when our students are making so many health care decisions with their pocketbooks.”

Printed on Thursday, August 4, 2011 as: Insurance requirements to raise women's coverage