New Federal Rules Aim to Expand Health Coverage for Women

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Federal health officials have announced new regulations that would require insurers to cover a range of preventive care services for women without co-payments or deductibles, including contraception. The new rules would go into effect in January 2013.

Planned Parenthood of New York City applauded the regulations. Spokeswoman Erica Sackin said the cost of birth control has long created a barrier to access for many women. "It can cost anywhere from $15 to $50 a month, which really adds up," Sackin said.

"Many of our patients tell us that they struggle to afford birth control and have to make unfortunate financial decisions such as choosing between buying groceries and buying their monthly pill pack." Sackin said.

Sackin hopes greater access will also help prevent unplanned pregnancies. She said 61 percent of pregnancies in New York City are unplanned.

The regulations are part of President Barack Obama's health care law. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said they'll also ensure access to screening for sexually-transmitted diseases and diabetes during pregnancy, breast-feeding support and supplies and counseling for domestic violence — all without cost-sharing.

But Leslie Moran, senior vice president of New York's Health Plan Association, urged consumers to read the find print and check with their insurance companies to verify costs and coverage.

"It's important to remember that no co-payments does not mean that there's no cost," Moran said. "In fact, adding services and eliminating cost-sharing such as co-payments can actually increase the bottom-line costs of your insurance premiums."

Moran said the actual increases for those services could be small, but that they can add up when combined with other factors that drive up insurance costs. She also noted that New York was ahead of the game and had already taken steps to ensure access to many women's health services, including coverage of mammograms and cervical cancer screenings.