Beginning Wednesday, all new health insurance plans will be required to provide eight preventive health benefits to women for free.
The benefits include contraceptives, breast-feeding supplies and screenings for gestational diabetes, sexually transmitted infections and domestic violence, as well as routine check-ups for breast and pelvic exams, Pap tests and prenatal care.
The services are a requirement of the health care reform law Congress passed in 2010. A new report released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services estimates 47 million women are in health plans that must offer the new benefits.
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"Women will be able to have access to essential preventive services that will provide early detection and screening for those situations where they're most at risk, and also provide opportunities to care and services that they need as wives and mothers," Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, said at a press conference Monday.
An additional 14 free preventative service benefits for women have already taken effect as a requirement of health care reform, including mammograms to screen for breast cancer in women over 40 and screenings for osteoporosis in women over age 60.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius trumpeted the need for the reforms.
"Before the health care law, many insurers didn't even cover basic women's health care. Other care plans charged such high copayments that they discouraged many women from getting basic preventive services. So as a result, surveys show that more than half of the women in this country delayed or avoided preventive care because of its cost," Sebelius said Monday. "That's simply not right."
Not all insured women will have access to the new services. Certain insurance plans that existed prior to the passage of health care reform may have "grandfathered" status and may be exempt from offering the benefits.
"You may or may not have them offered to you, and if they're offered, you may have to pay cost sharing. In other words, you may have to pay a portion of the costs," said Gary Claxton, a vice president on health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
It's not immediately clear how many women are in such plans. A 2011 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 56% of covered workers are in "grandfathered" plans. Experts anticipate the number of those plans will shrink as significant changes are made to them, resulting in a loss of "grandfathered" status.
Women can call their employers to ask whether they are in "grandfathered" health insurance plans, Claxton said.