Panel: Birth Control Should Be Covered By Insurance Without Co-Pay

Yesterday, an Institute of Medicine panel released its recommendations to the federal government about which services for women should insurance companies be obliged to cover. Chief among the eight recommendations was that birth control should be made available without need for a patient copay.

“Unintended pregnancies carry health consequences for the mother — psychological, emotional and physical — and also consequences for the newborn,” said the panel’s chairwoman, Dr. Linda Rosenstock, dean of public health at UCLA. “The overwhelming evidence was strongly supportive of the health benefit” of contraception.

While most health plans already cover birth control pills, some worry that requiring insurers to cover contraception — especially emergency, so-called “morning after” pills — would cross a moral line.

From the AP:

The conservative Family Research Council said the recommendations could lead to a federal “mandate” for abortion coverage, since emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and Ella would be covered. But the Food and Drug Administration classifies those drugs as birth control, not abortion pills. Panel member Alina Salganicoff, women’s health policy director for the Kaiser Family Foundation, said abortion drugs are not included in the recommendations.

Among the other services the panel recommended for required coverage:
*Annual HIV counseling and screening for sexually active women.
*Screening for and counseling about domestic violence.
*Annual counseling on sexually transmitted infections for sexually active women.
*Support for breast feeding mothers, including the cost of renting pumps.

The one member of the 16-person panel who dissented on the recommendations said he did so because no cost-benefit analysis had been done to examine how insurers would ultimately make their money back from providing these free services. But panel chair Dr. Rostenstock points out that the group was not asked to consider cost.

These recommendations will go before Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who is expected to announce her final decisions around Aug. 1.

Although the services will be free of any additional charge to patients, somebody has to pay. The cost is likely to be spread among other people with health insurance, resulting in slightly higher premiums.

Dissenting panel member Anthony Lo Sasso, a senior research professor at the University of Illinois school of public health, cited the lack of a cost-benefit analysis as a reason for his disapproval. Panel chair Rosenstock said the group was not asked to consider cost.

Gov’t advisers: No copays for contraceptives [AJC.com]