Free Birth Control For Many, Courtesy of HHS

With co-payments of $10 to $35 a month, birth control pills can add up to an expensive precaution for American women, even those with private insurance. But a new rule issued today by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services makes those fees a worry of the past for many insured women.

Photo by Ceridwen via Flickr

Under the health overhaul passed by Congress last year, private insurers will now be required to provide women with a whole range of preventive services, including birth control, without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or deductible.

That means you, your girlfriend, wife, sister and friends who have private insurance plans can get any contraceptive approved by the Food and Drug Administration including sterilization procedures, with the insurance plan picking up the entire cost. Condoms also are included on the FDA list of contraceptives, although the new rules on coverage only apply to contraceptives that are prescribed by a physician.

The HHS decision to require insurers to cover contraception proved controversial, with anti-abortion groups arguing that contraception is against the religious beliefs of some Americans, and that some forms of emergency contraception, including Plan B, are akin to early abortion.  The final HHS decision was based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, an independent and well-respected research organization, but includes a special amendment allowing religious institutions that offer health insurance to their employees to opt out of the contraception requirement.

These rules also do not apply to plans offered by large companies that self-insure and have been grandfathered under the law. The rules also have no effect on the cost of contraception for women without insurance.

The new HHS rule also requires that women older than 30 be eligible to receive free tests for human papillomavirus along with their annual Pap smears to detect cervical cancer. Screening for HPV, the virus that causes cervical and other cancers, can increase the chances of identifying women at risk and providing early treatment.

Other preventive services that will be offered with no co-pay include:

  • Annual preventive care visits that include preconception and prenatal care.
  • Screening for gestational diabetes.
  • Sexually-transmitted infection counseling.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening and counseling.
  • FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling.
  • Breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling.
  • Domestic violence screening and counseling.

The new rule will take effect for private insurance plans beginning on or after August 1, 2012.

NARAL, an organization that advocates for women’s reproductive rights, including abortion, created a handy calculator that tells you how much you might save on birth control.

This posting was updated at 3:12 p.m.