Yesterday, the White House outlined new regulations which require health insurance carriers to provide coverage for many preventive care measures at no cost to policy subscribers. These preventive care measures include dozens of screenings and laboratory tests like blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol, HIV, and cancer screenings, routine vaccinations, well-visits for infants and children, and prenatal care. Counseling to decrease obesity and stop smoking must also be offered free of charge. The complete list of tests and screenings was compiled by the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of health experts.
The new regulations will apply to new health plans beginning coverage after September 23, 2010 as well as to existing plans that make major changes after this date. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius estimates this change will affect 10 million Americans with individual and family health insurance and 31 million Americans in new employer-sponsored plans next year. In most instances, the task force has detailed how frequently a screening should be performed. Where the task force hasn’t specified a service’s recommended frequency, they ask health insurers to use “reasonable medical management techniques to determine the frequency.” Though these tests must now be offered to subscribers at no cost, insurance carriers will still be allowed to charge patients for treatments related to conditions detected after a screening.
The benefits of utilizing preventive services are real: Secretary Sebelius noted in a press conference for the release of these regulations that 100,000 deaths annually could be prevented if patients effectively used colorectal and breast cancer screenings, flu vaccines, counseling on smoking, and counseling on aspirin therapy to prevent heart disease. Unfortunately, it’s estimated that Americans use preventive services at only half the rate recommended by physicians and experts. Consumers need to take advantage of the preventive services that will be more widely available (and free!) as a result of these new regulations. Now there should be no excuse for those with individual and family or employer-sponsored coverage for whom these tests are free to take responsibility for their own health by getting screenings.
Secretary Sebelius also announced the task force is now compiling a list of preventive services that carriers must offer for free to women to supplement the services already required, including genetic counseling for women with family history of breast cancer, counseling to promote breast-feeding, and osteoporosis screenings. A controversy is on the horizon already with regard to this second list of women’s services. The Planned Parenthood Federation of America has argued publicly that insurance plans should be required to cover contraceptives without co-payments, a proposition pro-life groups will undoubtedly oppose.