Although the Affordable Care Act will not be fully implemented until 2014, women can start receiving new preventive benefits as early as Wednesday.
According to Dr. Kathryn Menard, Vice Chair of Obstetrics and Director of UNC Maternal Fetal Medicine, “Ensuring access to preventive care is a tremendous service to women.” She said the Affordable Care Act will help expand coverage in between pregnancies, especially for low income women who are underinsured. “I can’t think of any downsides for women.”
These new benefits will include:
- Well-woman visits: These function as annual preventive care visits where women can determine what preventive services and additional visits they need. Well woman visits can act as an annual physical.
- Gestational diabetes screening: Women who are 24 to 28 weeks pregnant or who are at risk of developing gestational diabetes are eligible for these screenings. According to the American Diabetes Association, babies of mothers with gestational diabetes are at risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life. Screenings can notify mothers early in their pregnancies so they can monitor their blood sugar and keep gestational diabetes under control.
- HPV DNA testing: HPV (human papillomavirus) DNA testing can detect the high-risk types of HPV that can lead to cervical cancer. Women age 30 or older will have access to testing every three years, regardless of pap smear results. According to the American Cancer Society, women who have never been screened constitute half of the cervical cancer diagnoses in the United States. Women who have not been screened in the past five years make up another 10 percent of diagnoses.
- STI counseling, HIV screening and counseling: Women will have access to annual counseling on sexually transmitted infections and HIV. Counselling can reduce risky behavior and decrease the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among women.
- Contraception and contraceptive counseling: Women will have access to education, counseling, sterilization procedures and all FDA-approved methods of contraception. Drugs that induce abortions are not included. The Department of Health and Human Services will allow employers to refuse to provide contraception coverage based on religious beliefs of the employer. If an employer opts out, the insurance company is required to provide the coverage at no cost to women.
- Breastfeeding support, counseling and supplies: Pregnant and postpartum women will have access to breastfeeding equipment along with counseling and support from trained professionals.
- Domestic violence screening: Women will have access to counseling for domestic and interpersonal violence. According to the North Carolina Medical Journal, 25 percent of North Carolina women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence since turning 18 years old.
The act states that the preventive services listed above must be covered for women with no cost sharing in plans that start on or after Aug. 1.
Health plans purchased on or before March 23, 2010, are exempted from many provisions of the Affordable Care Act, including the new preventive services available for women. Health care providers are required to disclose whether or not they consider their plans to be grandfathered in to this exemption.