A hotly contested provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires employers and insurers to offer free contraceptive coverage takes effect today despite ongoing legal challenges.
Starting August 1, 2012, all new insurance policies must cover birth control and certain other preventive health services with no copay, coinsurance, or deductible. The move has riled political conservatives who say it encroaches on their religious freedom by forcing some faith-based employers to provide contraceptive coverage against their will.
While efforts to repeal the change in Congress seem to have cooled, some legal challenges (in Colorado and Michigan) are still under way to the law, which has already been delayed for certain faith-based organizations by the Obama administration.
Other women's health services for which mandated coverage begins Wednesday include free annual breast exams, prenatal care, HPV screenings, and pelvic exams. Although the changes take effect today, insurance plans won't be required to start providing the free contraception until the insurance plan's next renewal date -- Jan. 1 for most plans. Unfortunately, many state plans were renewed July 1 so it may take a full year to implement everything mandated by the ACA. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates 47 million women will be effected by the ACA's mandate.
Despite some Republican concerns about the birth control mandate, they have yet to take a vote in the House of Representatives. Efforts to repeal parts of or the entire ACA have stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate, despite repeated efforts by the House.
But the Obama Administration has already taken steps to soften the change. A final rule issued in March says religious colleges and universities who object to contraception do not have to pay for or arrange coverage for their students or employees.
In addition, all nonchurch religious organizations that object to the policy don't have to pay for birth control; instead, their health insurers would be required to reach out to beneficiaries separately and offer such coverage free of charge. Religious organizations such as churches are exempt from the rule entirely.