Starting Wednesday (August 1), American women will be entitled to free birth control pills, Pap smear tests, and mammograms as a provision of the new health care law takes effect. NBC News reports that women will also be entitled to free breastfeeding support, supplies for gestational diabetes, and screening for domestic violence:
It's not clear how many women will take adavantage of the new policy, but the US Health and Human Services Department estimates that 47 million women, ages 15 to 64, have private health insurance plans that will be affected. The 2010 health reform law requires policies provided by private health insurance companies pay for a list of women's health preventive services, starting August 1.
However, there may be a delay in services for many women. The law applies to new policies -- women with existing coverage may have to wait for their policies to renew for the requirements to kick in, which could take months. Many health insurers already provide this coverage.
The new rules are based on guidelines from the independent, non-partisan Institute of Medicine, which said paying for these services will save money and lives down the road.
"We want healthy women to have healthy babies," said Dr. Jennifer Howse, president of the March of Dimes Foundation, a charity that works to prevent birth defects. "Receiving regular medical care greatly increases the likelihood that important messages can be delivered to pregnant women around issues such as nutrition and tobacco cessation, and provides opportunities to detect potentially dangerous conditions like gestational diabetes or high blood pressure."
There are a few exceptions. Purely religious employers don't have to provide the services to employees if they object. Related groups, such as Catholic-affiliated universities, have objected so the Obama administration offered what it called an accommodation, forcing the insurance companies themselves to pay for the coverage. But the religious associations still object, as do Republicans in Congress. They have promised to repeal the whole law if they win enough seats in the November election.
Image: Birth control pills, via Shutterstock