Free birth control, free breast pumps, free cancer screenings. With the start of 2013 most women with insurance are entitled to these health care benefits and more because of the new health care laws.
Women of child bearing age are typically in a state of trying to prevent pregnancy, pregnant, or postpartum. These new health care laws make care during these phases free. Now that the New Year has come and gone, most women with health insurance can take advantage.
Katrina Coleman is a working single mother of two. She counts every penny. She was pleasantly surprised when she went to pick up her birth control and the pharmacist told her to put her wallet away. Because of the new health care law, birth control is now covered by insurance companies with no co-pay.
"That's $10 a month. It doesn't seem like much, but I've got two kids and that's a pair of shoes for an 18 month old. So it does help so much," Coleman said.
Joan Carr with Planned Parenthood says their research shows that 50 percent of women have skipped filling their birth control prescription because of the cost barrier.
"That puts them at risk of unwanted pregnancy, so having this birth control available without co-pay means they're not going to put themselves at risk for pregnancy when they're not planning it," Carr said. "It's going to help them plan their families better."
Free birth control is one of the more popular aspects of the Affordable Health Care Act, changes that went into effect for most people the first of the year. But there are many female essential services that are now available without a co-pay: yearly well visits, HPV and STD screenings, breast and cervical cancer screenings, domestic violence counseling, and more.
Carr says this will have a big impact on women's health in general, especially in Shelby County where rates are high for many preventable and treatable diseases and infections.
"It means we're going to catch more cervical cancers early, when they're most treatable, more breast cancers in the early stages, when they can be best treateD," she said. "More women will be tested for sexually transmitted infections early when they can be treated before it affects fertility."
Pregnant and postpartum women will also see benefits with no co-pay, including folic acid supplements, gestational diabetes screenings, and possibly the most popular benefit: breast pump supplies and support at no cost to the mother.
A call to companies that supply insurance companies with breast pumps reveals they were sold out within two weeks of the changes going into effect. There is now a national backorder on breast pumps.
"It suggests there was a great need for sure," said Emily Kearney, a volunteer with the breast feeding support group La Leche League. "That also suggests we're going to have to do something about providers, and help make sure there is ample supplies for pumps and the pieces that go to them."
Access to breast pumps is the biggest barrier to women continuing to breast feed, especially for working moms, Kearney added. A double electric breast pump can run anywhere from $100 to $500. Kearney says anything to promote breast feeding is good for society as a whole, especially in Memphis where we have some of the highest rates of infant mortality and infant health problems in the country.
"It's baby's first immunization. It protects them from cold and flu, helps with childhood obesity, Diabetes, protects them from cancer later on," Kearney said. "Not only does it protect the child it protects the mother."
A free breast pump is a benefit Coleman only wishes she had after having her children, but she says now knowing about all these benefits she's working on spreading the word to all the women in her life.
"I went home and told my sister, told my mom, told my cousin," she said. "Women should talk about it. If you are about the women around you, take care of them."
MORE INFO: http://www.uhcpreventivecare.com/files/resource22/100-11613WomensPreventiveFAQsheet_FINAL8-2012.pdf