Panel recommends free birth control for the insured

The federal government should deem contraception a preventive service that insurance companies must fully cover under the federal health reform law, a committee recommended in a report released Tuesday.

Under the law, health plans must cover preventive services identified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, with no out-of-pocket cost to the plan member. The department asked the Institute of Medicine to examine preventive services for women and identify measures that would ensure their health and well-being.

The committee charged with the review recommended coverage of eight preventive services, but the most controversial by far will likely be the suggestion that health plans fully cover the cost of all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraception methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for women with reproductive capacity.

The report noted that women with unintended pregnancies might delay prenatal care or not receive it at all, and might not be motivated to stop behaviors that could harm the fetus, like smoking or drinking alcohol. Babies born from unintended pregnancies are also at greater risk of being born preterm or at low birth weight, putting them at risk for health and developmental problems.

The prospect of the federal government mandating full insurance coverage for contraception has already drawn opposition. You can read more about the controversy here.

The committee also recommended coverage of screening for gestational diabetes; human papilloma virus testing for women over 30 to screen for cervical cancer; counseling on sexually transmitted infections; counseling and screening for HIV; lactation counseling and equipment to promote breast feeding; screening and counseling to detect and prevent interpersonal and domestic violence; and yearly well-woman preventive care visits to get recommended preventive services.