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Insurers, religions oppose no-cost birth control mandate in health reform

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 2 2011 4:26 p.m. MDT

Free birth control for women, revealed Monday as one of the mandates included in healthcare reform, will clearly be among the most controversial provisions of the healthcare makeover, given strong feelings on both sides of the issue that have aired for decades.

The rules will not apply to religious institutions that offer health insurance to employees. They will get to choose whether or not to cover contraception services, according to CNN, but that won't stop complaints from both religious groups or insurers.

The idea behind the Affordable Care Act provision is to get insurers to expand coverage of women's health services that will be provided as prevention, without a copayment or deductible, starting in 2013, according to a story in The Daily Beast. The services include the test to see if a pregnant woman has developed gestational diabetes, testing and counseling for sexually transmitted diseases and domestic violence, well women's care and more.

"These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventative health benefits they need," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a news release.

In recommending birth control's inclusion on the list of preventive health services, the Institutes of Medicine noted that the "direct medical cost of unintended pregnancy in 2003 was $5 billion," wrote the Daily Beast's Amanda Marcotte, "with a savings from contraception that year estimated at $19.3 billion. With nearly half of U.S. pregnancies unintended, there's quite a bit of room to save money with free contraception," she said.

Among the first to speak in opposition to the new regulations was the insurance companies themselves, the Chicago Tribune reported. CBS News added to the list of those opposing birth control's inclusion on the list, while the Christian Post outlined opposition from the Catholic Church, which objects to the use of contraception in favor of natural family planning. "Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible," Cardinal Daniel DiNardio, chairman of the bishop's Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said in the article.

The National Women's Law Center launched an online petition drive supporting the regulations. Planned Parenthood called it a "victory for women's health."

Daily Finance estimates the cost of lifetime birth control for women who use it as between $3,600 and $18,000 for a lifetime, depending on insurance, type of contraception and other factors.

Among other health tests with mandated coverage but no deductibles or co-pays are mammograms, colonoscopies, blood pressure checks and childhood immunizations, according to The New York Times.

The birth control mandate exempts current products offered by many insurers. New companies or existing companies that offer new plans and products must meet the requirement.

According to the Detroit Free Press, "The administration gave insurers some leeway in determining what they will cover. For example, health plans will be able to charge co-pays for brand-name drugs in cases when an equally effective generic version is available. Federal officials said that while the services are free, costs of monthly premiums could rise slightly as insurers absorb the costs."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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