Women's health advocates praise IOM recommendations

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The IOM committee said "the full range of Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling" should be covered without cost-sharing.

“Covering birth control without co-pays is one of the most important steps we can take to prevent unintended pregnancy and keep women and children healthy,” said Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The recommendations were first reported by The Hill, based on a copy of the report provided by sources outside of the IOM. The Hill did not receive an advance copy of the report from the institute.

In addition to contraception, the IOM panel said co-pays should be eliminated for annual HIV tests and screenings for other sexually transmitted diseases. Tests for human papillomavirus should be added to existing cervical cancer screenings, also without cost-sharing, the IOM panel said.

The committee also recommended free coverage for domestic violence screening and counseling.

“This is a landmark decision not just for women’s health, but also for women’s rights in America,” Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “Access to contraception, counseling for victims of domestic abuse, and preventative screenings for HIV and other diseases will empower women to reduce unintended pregnancies and better protect themselves and their health.”

The IOM panel made its recommendations to the Health and Human Services Department, which has the final say over which services insurers will ultimately need to cover. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement that she is reviewing the recommendations.

“This report is historic,” Sebelius stated. “Before today, guidelines regarding women’s health and preventive care did not exist. These recommendations are based on science and existing literature and I appreciate the hard work and thoughtful analysis that went into this report.”

If HHS accepts the IOM’s recommendations, they’ll apply to all plans except the small number that are exempt from most healthcare reform requirements.

One member of the 15-person IOM committee dissented from the potentially controversial recommendations, saying they lacked scientific rigor.

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