Should the government require full birth control coverage?

Flickr (outcast104)
birth control, pills
Flickr (outcast104)

A recommendation by a nonpartisan group of experts that the government require health insurance companies to cover the full cost of birth control for women has prompted both praise and anger ahead of the Obama administration's decision on whether to adopt the recommendation.

A panel from the Institute of Medicine on Tuesday gave the Health and Human Services Department a list of eight services for women it said should qualify as preventive care, including contraception, HIV screening and support for breast-feeding mothers. Under President Obama's health care reform package, insurers are required to fully cover the cost of preventive care in most cases.

Reproductive rights groups hailed the recommendation as a positive step for women's health.

"Millions of women, especially young women, struggle every day to afford prescription birth control," said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Today's recommendation brings us a step closer to ensuring that all newly insured women under the health care reform law will have access to prescription birth control without out-of-pocket expenses."

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said that "today's news marks one of the biggest advances for women's health in a generation."

Groups opposed to abortion rights, meanwhile, criticized the breadth of the recommendations.

The Family Research Council decried the recommendations for including emergency contraception (or the "morning after pill"). The group also points out there are no conscience protections for health care providers in insurance plan networks who object to prescribing such drugs.

"If HHS includes these mandates, the conscience rights of millions of Americans will be violated, including issuers of plans, providers who contract with such plans, and Americans who will pay for the cost of these services," Monahan said in a statement. "HHS should focus on items and services that prevent actual diseases, and not include controversial services just to placate the abortion industry."

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is also opposed to covering contraception as preventive care. Both the Conference and FRC have pressured HHS on the issue.

Abortion rights advocates have also taken action on the issue. NARAL worked with its affiliates to talk to students at 35 college campuses about no-cost birth control, and last month the group launched a Facebook application that enables a woman to determine how much money she could save if birth control were available without a copay.

Keenan warned that the Republican-led House could try to "derail the promise of no-cost birth control." The House has already voted twice -- once in February and once in April -- to cut family planning funding. (The bills died in the Senate.)

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement Tuesday that she would respond to the recommendations soon. She called the IOM report "historic."

"Before today, guidelines regarding women's health and preventive care did not exist," she said. "These recommendations are based on science and existing literature and I appreciate the hard work and thoughtful analysis that went into this report."