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Insurers respond cautiously to contraceptive plan

The health insurance industry reacted cautiously to President Obama's "accommodation" that would require insurance companies, but not religiously affiliated institutions, to provide contraceptive coverage at no extra cost. A trade association representing the insurance industry voiced concern about "the precedent" that the new rule would set. 

But a spokesman for the organization, America's Health Insurance Plans, also noted that covering the cost of contraception lowers health care costs in the long run.

President Obama announced Friday that insurance companies will be responsible for providing (free) birth control to women working at religiously affiliated organizations (including schools, charities and hospitals) as part of their health care coverage. The compromise came in response to an uproar after the administration announced last month that some religiously affiliated institutions would be required to provide and pay for such coverage. The president noted that churches and other religious institutions are exempt from the requirement.

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America's Health Insurance Plans focused its statement on concerns about the precedent President Obama's announcement may create: "Health plans have long offered contraceptive coverage to employers as part of comprehensive, preventive benefits that aim to improve patient health and reduce health care cost growth. We are concerned about the precedent this proposed rule would set. As we learn more about how this rule would be operationalized, we will provide comments through the regulatory process," Press Secretary Robert Zirkelbach said in a statement.

But Zirkelbach also noted that contraception should in fact "reduce health care cost growth." While insurance companies might pay a slightly higher cost up front, the cost of birth control pills, IUD or other prescription contraception is considerably lower than pre-natal care and childbirth, and that's without complications.

Aetna responded to a request for comment by saying the company needed time to process what the news meant in practical terms. "Aetna certainly will comply with the policy announced today, but we need to study the mechanics of this unprecedented decision before we can understand how it will be implemented and how it will impact our customers," according to a statement shared by AETNA spokesperson Susan G. Millerick.

Highmark said in a similar statement that it needed to determine how the change will affect the company and its customers. "Highmark, along with the rest of the insurance industry, will need to determine how to operationalize this regulation, as we will now be handling the contraceptive benefit directly, rather than through the group, for the non-exempted religious organizations who choose not to cover contraception," says spokesperson Janice Maszle.

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