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Editorial: Many women to benefit from new health support

Aug. 07, 2011 @ 11:25 PM

For many Americans, the Affordable Care Act has been a divisive issue. Many fear the health care reform measure has gone too far, while others see the measure as a way to provide more opportunities to receive health care.

But one aspect of that plan could have a positive effect for millions of women in the United States. On Aug. 1, the Obama administration determined that health care providers are required to provide preventative reproductive health support for women in multiple ways beginning Jan. 1, 2013.

The determination means that health care providers cover birth control without any co-pays. That means birth control would be free for women.

"Over a span of generations from grandmothers to granddaughters, we have come from birth control being a hope and a wish -- and almost luck -- to being recognized as a part of health care that improves women's health," Cynthia Pearson of the National Women's Health Network, an advocacy group supporting the change, told The Associated Press.

The determination goes even further, by ensuring coverage for an annual well-woman visit, tests for cervical cancer, counseling for domestic violence and support for mothers, including diabetes testing during pregnancy and paying for breast pump equipment.

The far-reaching support for reproductive health was quickly criticized by conservative religious groups, but the measure can go a long way toward reducing costs down the road, both for health care providers and the government.

About half of pregnancies are unplanned, and in West Virginia, Medicaid pays for at least half of the pregnancies. In addition, some birth control pills can provide other health benefits for women, such as fewer menstrual cramps, reductions in acne and stronger bones. They can also reduce the risk of cancer for some reproductive organs.

Also, the programs, such as support for breast feeding mothers, provide healthier children. "Breastfeeding is one of the most effective preventive measures mothers can take to protect their children's and their own health," according to the release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "One of the barriers for breastfeeding is the cost of purchasing or renting breast pumps and nursing related supplies."

Experts also say that contraception can improve a woman's health during a second pregnancy by spacing births far enough apart to decrease potential risks such as premature births, low birth weight and autism.

While it is hard to put a number on how much this will reduce expenses, it is clear that reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and future illnesses can improve women's health considerably.

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