Amid the landslide of dismal news coming out of Washington, D.C., this week about congressional efforts to raise the debt ceiling, here's some good news to report that might get buried in the mix:
On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidelines to ensure that women have access to vital preventative health care services at no cost to them. The guidelines require all new insurance plans to pay for such things as contraception, breastfeeding support, domestic-violence counseling and screening for sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and HPV — aka "chick stuff" that might actually save a life or 10.
The new federal guidelines require that these services be made available to women without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or deductible. As HHS discovered, many women, especially those in low- and moderate-income households, don't seek out those services either because they're not covered by their insurance at all or else the deductible is too high.
"The Affordable Care Act helps stop health problems before they start," says HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in a press statement. "These historic guidelines are based on science and existing literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need.”
Last summer, HHS issued similar rules under the federal Affordable Care Act that require all new private health plans to cover preventative services such as mammograms, colonoscopies, blood pressure checks and childhood immunizations without charging co-payments, deductibles or co-insurances. The Affordable Care Act also made those services available free to Medicare recipients.
Why is this an important decision in our area? Well, just last month New Hampshire's five-member executive council voted three-to-two to cut off all funding to Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. FYI, about 1500 Vermont women are patients at Planned Parenthood health centers in West Lebanon, Claremont and Keene, right across the river.
In effect, the council decided to end more than 30 years of critical health care coverage provided by six Planned Parenthood centers in the Granite State. It shouldn't come as a shock to anyone that the three councilors who voted against what otherwise would have been a routine funding renewal were all men. Talk about a dick move.
However, before women start rushing out to get their free breast pumps and HPV tests — mechanical milkers and PAP smears being oh-so-pleasurable and all — they should keep in mind that the new HHS rules only apply to insurance plans that begin on or after August 1, 2012.
Moreover, if a woman happens to work for a faith-based organization such as, say, the Catholic Church or St. Michael's College, the new rules do allow religious institutions that offer health insurance to their employees to opt out of covering birth control. Can't win 'em all...