WASHINGTON — Birth control pills should be provided to women free of charge under US health insurance plans, a non-governmental health policy advisory group urged on Tuesday.
Contraceptives and counseling to prevent unintended pregnancies, DNA tests for human papillomavirus (HPV) and lactation services for new mothers were among eight health services that the Institute of Medicine said should be covered in order to improve the state of women’s health.
The IOM’s report, “Clinical Preventive Services for Women: Closing the Gaps,” also said US health plans should provide free screening for gestational diabetes and free counseling on sexually transmitted infections and HIV.
Other recommendations included free lactation counseling and breast pump rentals to promote breast-feeding — services that most mothers of newborns pay for out of pocket — and regular screening and counseling to detect domestic violence.
Birth control pills are often covered, at least partially, by many health insurance plans but the committee recommended they be issued without any co-payment by the patient.
Emergency contraception, or pills that women can take shortly after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy, are included in those recommendations, but abortion-inducing drugs such as RU-486 are not.
The group urged the changes after being tasked by the US government’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with reviewing “what preventive services are important to women’s health and well-being,” it said in a statement.
“At the agency’s request, an IOM committee identified critical gaps in preventive services for women as well as measures that will further ensure women’s health and well-being.”
If agreed to by HHS, the changes could take effect as early as next year in most health insurance plans.
The potential costs of adding blanket coverage of the eight services were not considered as part of the group’s review.
Women in the United States tend to face higher costs to maintain their health than men because of a range of reproductive conditions that are unique to them. Often, private health insurance covers only part of the annual costs.
Routine DNA tests for HPV could cut back on cervical cancer rates, and free access to lactation counseling and equipment could boost rates of breastfeeding by new moms, a practice that is considered beneficial to babies’ health.
Free access to contraception could also cut back on the rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States, where about half of all pregnancies are unplanned, the report said.
“This report provides a road map for improving the health and well-being of women,” said committee chair Linda Rosenstock, dean of the school of public health at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“The eight services we identified are necessary to support women’s optimal health and well-being. Each recommendation stands on a foundation of evidence supporting its effectiveness.”