On August 1, 2011, a major victory was won for women and children in the United States. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced guidelines that require new health insurance plans to cover preventative health services for women at no extra cost. These guidelines are significant in ensuring that all women have access to the preventative care that is necessary to ensure not only their health, but the health of their children.

These guidelines were developed by the independent Institute of Medicine and released under the Affordable Care Act. Women will be covered for a wide range of services, including:

  • well-woman visits, which include an annual visit to get the recommended preventative care services;
  • screening for gestational diabetes;
  • human papillomavirus DNA testing for women 30 years and older;
  • sexually-transmitted infection counseling;
  • HIV screening and counseling;
  • FDA-approved contraception methods and contraceptive counseling;
  • breastfeeding support, supplies, and counseling; and
  • domestic violence screening and counseling.

Plus, many private plans must cover regular well-baby and well-child visits also at no additional cost.

Women joining a new health insurance plan beginning on or after August 1, 2012 or who are receiving Medicare benefits can use these services without having to lay out a co-pay or deductible. In the past, many women did not utilize preventative health services because of the high cost. This is particularly troublesome because women are often most in need preventative services due to high rates of chronic disease including diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Insurance companies often charge them higher premiums, so they end up spending a higher percentage of their income on health care costs.

These guidelines have obvious benefits for our children. The Affordable Care Act already provides important rights for children, such as banning insurers from denying coverage to the 17 million children who have a pre-existing condition. Now it also helps children have a healthy beginning. Preventative care for mothers means healthier babies and can reduce infant mortality and low birth weight. Healthy mothers also raise healthier children and services such as domestic violence screening and counseling ensure a safe and healthy environment to raise a child.

First Focus applauds these new guidelines and hope they help all women gain access to the preventative health services that are so important for their health, as well as the health of their children.