Birth Control as Preventive Medicine? The Institute of Medicine Says Yes.

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On Tuesday, the highly respected, non-partisan Institute of Medicine released a report that is sure to draw fire from some critics of Democratic health reform. In a much-anticipated paper on which services should be classified as preventive medicine under the Affordable Care Act – and therefore be 100% covered by insurers – the IOM said birth control should fall in this category. This guideline, though non-binding, is expected to heavily influence the Department of Health and Human Services as it further refines which services will count as “preventive medicine” under the Affordable Care Act.

Since Sept. 23, 2010, all new plans have been required to cover preventive services with no out-of-pocket costs for consumers. This health reform provision originally 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.

Citing data showing that contraception lowers unintended pregnancy and abortion rates, the IOM also said birth control can help women better space out their pregnancies, which can have positive health impacts. The IOM report is expected to draw heavy criticism from groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Family Research Council, which opposed the preventive classification when the issue was first raised last fall.

The IOM report is not the final word. The Obama Administration, via HHS, will decide whether birth control will be covered by insurance with no out-of-pocket cost to consumers. In addition to birth control, the IOM said other women’s services should also be classified as preventive, including:

* Screening or gestational diabetes
* Screening for the human papillomavirus
* Annual STD counseling
* Annual counseling and screening for HIV
* Lactation counseling and breast pump equipment rental for nursing mothers
* Domestic violence screening and counseling

These services, which IOM says are beneficial to women and supported by evidence, will no doubt figure into the cost of private health insurance.