WASHINGTON -- An independent panel of doctors and health experts Tuesday recommended that health plans cover contraceptives for women without co-pays, setting the stage for another debate over the effect of the healthcare overhaul President Barack Obama signed last year.
The new law requires new health plans to cover a basic set of preventive health services without co-pays or deductibles for patients.
And the Obama administration asked the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, to review which services should be covered for women.
Among eight recommendations issued Tuesday, the Institute of Medicine panel urged coverage for "the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity."
Many experts see preventing unwanted pregnancies as critical to women's and babies' health, as women with unwanted pregnancies are less likely to receive prenatal care and often engage in unsafe behaviors such as drinking and smoking.
But some anti-abortion groups had objected to expanding coverage for contraception, singling out several emergency contraceptives that can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.
The Department of Health and Human Services will consider the recommendations as it finalizes regulations outlining which preventive services will have to be covered by new health plans.
The other preventive services for women that the panel recommended be covered without cost sharing include:
- Screening for gestational diabetes.
- Human papillomavirus, or HPV, testing as part of cervical cancer screening for women over 30.
- Counseling on sexually transmitted infections.
- Counseling and screening for HIV.
- Lactation counseling and equipment to promote breast-feeding.
- Screening and counseling to detect and prevent domestic violence.
- Annual preventive care visits.