Victory for Women's Health: Free Preventative Services for Women

August 4, 2011

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

On August 1, 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced new guidelines for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ensuring that insurance plans cover a wide array of preventive services for women at no additional cost.

Amnesty International has long advocated for the right to accessible, affordable and adequate health care that responds to the particular needs of women. The assurance that women have access to the full range of contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration is a powerful and encouraging statement about the importance of women’s preventative health care.

Under the new guidelines, health insurance plans must cover:

  • Sexually transmitted infection (STI) screening and counseling
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) screening and counseling
  • Screening for gestational diabetes in pregnant women
  • Contraceptive methods
  • DNA testing for the human papillomavirus as part of cervical cancer screenings
  • Well-women visits
  • Screening to detect domestic violence, and
  • Counseling and equipment to promote breast-feeding

The services will all be provided without charging a co-payment, co-insurance or a deductible. These efforts to increase access to preventive services are designed to both save lives and reduce healthcare costs. As women’s health champion Rep. Lois Capps said, the guidelines will “ensure that all women—regardless of how they get their health care — will have increased access to the services they need to be healthy.” The guidelines will take effect just one year from now.

The focus on meeting the health needs of women in an effort to make health care more equitable marks a huge step in the fight for women’s health as a human right. Access to affordable and relevant health services and to accurate, comprehensive health information is a fundamental human right, and Amnesty International has long recognized the need for care responding to the particular needs of women. This March Amnesty released a one-year update to Deadly Delivery: The Maternal Health Care Crisis in the USA, our 2010 report highlighting the failure of the U.S. government to ensure that maternal health services are available, accessible and acceptable to all.

In the update report, we highlighted the need for free preventive care services for women calling for, “Federal and state governments  . . . [to] ensure that all women in need of publicly funded family planning and reproductive health services can receive them, including by:  Removing cost sharing for these services.”  We applaud HHS for taking this critical step in the right direction for women’s health.

But there is more work to be done.  Amnesty International’s report highlights the need for a continued, concerted focus on women’s health.  Women in the United States have a greater risk of dying from pregnancy related complications than women in 49 other countries, despite spending $98 billion per year for childbirth and pregnancy care.  Efforts to ensure women’s access to health services are crucial and save lives. Learn more and find ways to take action at our Women’s Health, Sexual and Reproductive Rights page.