8 Preventive Health Care Services Women Can Get for Free

By Lynette Summerill

When a new provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), sometimes referred to as "Obamacare" kicked in Aug. 1, 2012, about 47 million American women became eligible to receive additional preventive health care services without a co-payment or any patient cost sharing.

The eight free services are offered to privately insured women or Medicare recipients enrolling in new health insurance plans or renewing existing policies on or after Aug. 1, 2012. ACA states any new private health plans obtained in plan years starting on or after Aug. 1, must cover the law's guidelines on women's preventive services with no cost sharing.

One big change is women can visit their OB/GYN physician without a referral. Insurance companies can no longer require a woman to obtain prior approval before seeking obstetrical and gynecological care.

Here's a breakdown of the new services courtesy of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Well-woman Visits:

An annual well-woman preventative care visit for adult women to obtain the recommended preventive services, and any additional visits if women and their health care providers determine are necessary. These visits will help women and their health care providers determine what preventive services are appropriate, and set up an action plan to help women stay or get healthy.

HPV DNA Testing

Women who are age 30 or older will have access to high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) DNA testing every three years, regardless of their Pap smear results. Early screening, detection, and treatment have been shown to help reduce the prevalence of cervical cancer.

Gestational Diabetes Screening

Women who are 24 to 28 weeks pregnant and those at high risk of developing gestational diabetes now have free access to this screening. It will help improve the health of mothers and babies because women who have gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

In addition, the children of women with gestational diabetes are at significantly increased risk of being overweight and insulin-resistant throughout childhood.

STI Counseling

Sexually-active women will have access to annual counseling on sexually transmitted infections (STIs). These sessions have been shown to reduce risky behavior in patients, yet only 28 percent of women aged 18-44 years reported that they had discussed STIs with a doctor or nurse.

Contraception and Contraceptive Counseling

Women will have access to all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling. These recommendations do not include abortion-inducing drugs.

Most workers in employer-sponsored plans are currently covered for contraceptives. Contraceptives have additional health benefits like reduced risk of cancer and protection against osteoporosis.

HIV Screening and Counseling

Sexually active women will have access to annual counseling on the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Women are at increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. From 1999 to 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 15 percent increase in AIDS cases among women, and a 1 percent increase among men.

Breastfeeding Support, Supplies and Counseling

Pregnant and postpartum women will have access to comprehensive lactation support and counseling from trained providers, as well as breastfeeding equipment.

Breastfeeding is considered one of the most effective preventive measures mothers can take to protect their health and that of their children. One of the barriers for breastfeeding is the cost of purchasing or renting breast pumps and nursing-related supplies.

Interpersonal and Domestic Violence Screening and Counseling

Screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence should be provided for all adolescent and adult women. An estimated 25 percent of women in the United States report being targets of intimate partner violence during their lifetimes. Screening is effective in the early detection and effectiveness of interventions to increase the safety of abused women.

The new preventive health care benefits are in addition to the services already covered under ACA.

Healthcare.gov has a complete list of 65 free preventive services for all adults, women, including pregnant women, and children covered under the Affordable Health Care Act.

Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer and Scuba enthusiast who lives in San Diego with her husband and two beach loving dogs. Besides writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.

Reviewed October 23, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith