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Expanded coverage of contraceptives urged by experts

An independent panel of doctors and health experts Tuesday recommended that health plans cover contraceptives for women without co-pays, setting the stage for another debate over the impact of the healthcare overhaul President Obama signed last year.

The new law requires new health plans to cover a basic set of preventive health services without co-pays or deductibles for patients.

And the Obama administration asked the Institute of Medicine, a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, to review which services should be covered for women.

Among eight recommendations issued Tuesday, the Institute of Medicine panel urged coverage for “the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”

Many experts see preventing unwanted pregnancies as critical to women’s and babies’ health, as women with unwanted pregnancies are less likely to receive prenatal care and engage in unsafe behaviors such as drinking and smoking.

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But some anti-abortion groups had objected to expanding coverage for contraception, singling out several emergency contraceptives that can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.

The Department of Health and Human Services will consider the recommendations as it finalizes regulations outlining which preventive services will have to be covered by new health plans.

The other preventive services for women that the panel recommended be covered without cost sharing include:

-Screening for gestational diabetes

-Human papillomavirus (HPV) testing as part of cervical cancer screening for women over 30

-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 domestic violence

-Annual preventive care visits

“This report provides a road map for improving the health and well-being of women,” said Dr. Linda Rosenstock, dean of the School of Public Health at UCLA and chair of the panel.

“The eight services we identified are necessary to support women’s optimal health and well-being. Each recommendation stands on a foundation of evidence supporting its effectiveness,” she said in a statement.

The architects of the health overhaul made prevention a major focus of the new law, driven by growing consensus among physicians and public health experts that more aggressive efforts to prevent disease could help restrain the nation’s growing healthcare costs.

Thanks to the new law, Medicare, the federal insurance program for the elderly, has already begun offering beneficiaries access to many preventive services such as cancer screenings without co-pays or deductibles.

Noam.levey@latimes.com


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