Is Your Birth Control Free Under Obamacare?

by Clarissa-Jan Lim

On Monday, the White House took health insurers to task for flouting a federal requirement to provide women with free birth control coverage, warning insurance companies that female contraception must be free under Obamacare. Thought the announcement was celebrated by women clinics and activists, it no doubt came as a surprise to many — myself included — who, prior to the warning, did not know that they were eligible for free female contraception without co-payments or other charges. So if you're wondering when your birth control will be free, here's a guide to which contraception methods are legally obligated to be provided to you with full coverage.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurers have to cover at least one version of 18 types of birth control methods. The administration's warning on Monday came after two separate reports detailed how some health insurers ignored the requirement, charging women co-payments for birth control and failing to offer coverage on different types of contraceptives under the same categories.

If your birth control method does not fall under any of these categories, then it is not covered under the ACA; if it does, however, and you are still making co-payments or are subjected to any kind of charges for it, it's likely that your insurance company is breaking the rules.

  1. Sterilization surgery
  2. Implantable rod
  3. Copper intrauterine device
  4. IUDs (intrauterine devices) with the hormone progestin
  5. Shot/injection (Depo-Provera)
  6. Oral contraceptives with estrogen and progestin (aka the pill)
  7. Oral contraceptives with progestin only
  8. Oral contraceptives, known as extended or continuous use that delay menstruation
  9. The patch
  10. Vaginal contraceptive ring (aka NuvaRing)
  11. Diaphragm
  12. Sponge
  13. Cervical cap
  14. Female condom
  15. Spermicide
  16. Emergency contraception (Plan B/morning-after pill)
  17. Emergency contraception (a different pill called Ella)
Scott Olson/Getty Images News/Getty Images

While the Human Health Services guidance released on Monday requires insurers to cover every type of birth control, it does not oblige them to cover every product of each birth control method. For instance, if your preferred method is the pill, your insurance plan cannot make you choose a different type of contraception because it does not cover the pill, but it can only offer coverage for the generic pill instead of a brand name product.

The administration's announcement was lauded by many, who said it would provide better health care access to women, The New York Times reported. Those who use the patch, IUDs, and vaginal rings have particular cause to celebrate, as, according to a study by the National Women's Law Center (NWLC), those are the birth control methods that women have the most trouble getting covered.

AFP/AFP/Getty Images

If it so happens that the generic type your insurer is covering is not suitable for you due to its side effects, for example — and switching pill brands can often cause vastly different side effects — then speaking to your doctor could end up helping you get full coverage, as doctors ultimately have the final word on whether a particular method is medically necessary. The guidance explained:

[I]f the individual’s attending provider recommends a particular service or FDA-approved item based on a determination of medical necessity with respect to that individual, the plan or issuer must cover that service or item without cost sharing. The plan or issuer must defer to the determination of the attending provider with respect to the individual involved.

And if that still does not work, NWLC has resources to help you fight back if you think your insurance company is unfairly denying you birth control coverage, including a free hotline service.

If you're using one of the 18 birth control methods covered under Obamacare and are still paying for it, make sure to double check whether you're eligible for complete coverage — after all, access to health care is a women's right that you should not be denied, least of all in this day and age.

Image: Getty Images (2)