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How does the Affordable Care Act benefit women?

Under the Affordable Care Act, women’s preventive healthcare services -- such as mammograms, screenings for cervical cancer and other services -- are already covered with no cost sharing for new health plans. (The Affordable Care Act also made recommended preventive services free for people on Medicare.) The menu of those no­cost preventive services is scheduled to expand.

On August 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) adopted additional Guidelines for Women’s Preventive Services -- including well­woman visits, support for breastfeeding equipment, contraception and domestic violence screening -- that are covered without cost sharing in new health plans starting in August 2012.

The guidelines were recommended by the independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) and based on scientific evidence. The additional guidelines will not apply to Medicare. Under the law, many private plans also must cover regular well­baby and well­child visits without cost sharing.

An interim final rule was released alongside the women’s prevention guidelines to give religious organizations the choice of buying or sponsoring group health insurance that does not cover contraception if that is inconsistent with their tenets. This proposal is modeled on the most common exemption available in the 28 states that already require insurance companies to cover contraception.

In addition, the rules governing coverage of preventive services, which allow plans to use reasonable medical management to help define the nature of the covered service, apply to women’s preventive services. Plans retain the flexibility to control costs and promote efficient delivery of care by, for example, continuing to charge cost sharing for branded drugs if a generic version is available and just as effective and safe.

Not all Americans have equal access to health care. Low-income and racial and ethnic minorities often have higher rates of disease, fewer treatment options and reduced access to care. By eliminating cost-sharing requirements, these guidelines help improve access to comprehensive quality healthcare for all women.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.