Is Birth Control Preventive Medicine?

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That’s the question federal officials will by answering in the next year as they continue writing regulations to implement the Affordable Care Act. If federal regulators decide to include prescription contraception in its list of official preventive services, private insurers will be required to cover 100% of the cost.

To help convince federal regulators, Planned Parenthood just launched a campaign called “Birth Control Matters.” The effort includes an online petition and results of a poll commissioned by Planned Parenthood showing that 81% of women and 60% of men agree that birth control “definitely” or “probably” should be “covered under preventive health care.” (More on Check out ‘au natural’ birth control as part of our package on eco-friendly sex aids)

Predictably, conservative groups like the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Heritage Foundation and National Abstinence Education Association oppose the categorization of birth control as “preventive,” according to the Daily Beast.

Since Sept. 23, 2010, all new plans have been required to cover preventive services with no out of pocket costs for consumers. (Existing plans do not fall under this new rule.) This health reform provision kicked in using guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, the Centers for Disease Control and the Health Resources and Services Administration, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services.

Birth control is not considered “preventive” by these agencies, but the Affordable Care Act gives HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wide latitude to include other services. She has asked the Institute of Medicine to help it decide “what preventive services are necessary for women’s health and well-being and should be considered in the development of comprehensive guidelines for preventive services for women,” according to IOM. Birth control will be on the table as IOM researches this area. The IOM is a highly respected non-partisan organization known for its comprehensive research and review of research already conducted. The Wall Street Journal says the final IOM report should be released next summer. (More on Special — Health Care for the Uninsured).

The Planned Parenthood poll, commissioned by the group and conducted by a Democratic polling firm, hammers home the argument pro-contraception groups will use to persuade HHS. According to the poll 48% of women with annual income below $40,000 say cost has made it difficult for them to consistently use birth control; for women 18-34, the figure is 55%. Even Catholic women voters support the move, according to the poll, with 77% saying birth control should be covered at the 100% preventive services rate.

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