Women in the U.S. now have access to free preventative health services, a move endorsed by local health officials.
Insurance coverage of eight new prevention-related services are among the changes that evolved from the federal Affordable Care Act, ranging from annual physical exams — called well-women visits — to counseling for sexually transmitted diseases.
Previously, some insurance companies did not cover wellness exams, or women paid high deductibles and co-payments to receive the services.
The changes are estimated to affect 519,908 women ages
18-64 who have public or private health insurance in Iowa and
2 million such women in Illinois, according to a brief on the services prepared by the U.S. Department of Human Services. The guidelines are based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine.
They go into effect when an individual or family health insurance policy is renewed, usually during an open-enrollment period.
“This is a whole new ballgame in what it does for women,” said Tom Fedje, director of the Edgerton Women’s Health Center, Davenport. The facility, formerly called the Maternal Health Center, is celebrating its 40th anniversary of providing health services to Quad-City women.
“It should have tremendous public health benefits for all sorts of reasons,” Fedje said.
There are exceptions to the services, including exemptions to certain religious employers and a transition period for additional nonprofit organizations that have cited religious
objections to the contraception coverage.
Dr. Jeffrey Maurus salutes the rules, especially the contraception coverage. Maurus, medical director of the Rock Island County Health Department, said long-term methods of contraception can be very expensive for women on private insurance. “This will be a very good thing,” he said.
Fedje said the program has not included very firm guidelines, and he expects there will be modifications and clarifications of the policies as time goes on.
The federal report states that increased access to preventative services will help in specific ways: For example, rates of gestational diabetes range from 2-10 percent of pregnancies, and screening for the condition is recommended as affected women are more likely to develop diabetes after pregnancy.
The guidelines now make health insurance coverage more equal for men and women, according to the doctor. “Men have always gotten a better deal on their health insurance than women in the past,” Maurus said. “This makes things more fair and just.”