Today, Mark Udall joined 28 senators in urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to swiftly adopt new Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommendations that would allow women to access more life-saving preventive health services and screenings at no additional cost. Removing cost-barriers for women's preventive health care will save lives and ultimately lead to lower overall health care costs when health problems are caught and treated early.
Under the Affordable Care Act, the IOM had been charged with compiling evidence-based recommendations for preventive health care specifically for women. Currently, more than half of American women report delaying needed care because of cost. The letter, led by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), backs IOM recommendations to cover women for an annual women's health exam and to require health plans to cover comprehensive women's preventive care and screenings -- such as gestational diabetes screenings, counseling/testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, breastfeeding support and services, and birth control -- with no copayments or deductibles.
"Access to preventive health care is essential for improving the health of our nation and bringing our health care costs back under control," the senators wrote. "If fully adopted, the IOM's recommendations will not only improve the availability and accessibility of women's health services, but they will also represent an important step toward a healthier and more fiscally responsible future."
The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Ct.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tom Harkin (D-Ia.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), John Kerry (D-Mass), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
To view the IOM report, Clinical Preventive Services for Women: Closing the Gaps, go HERE.
The full text of the letter to Secretary Sebelius follows:
July 22, 2011
Dear Secretary Sebelius,
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that qualified health plans provide benefits without cost-sharing for certain recommended preventive health care services. Because gaps have historically existed in preventive service recommendations for women, bipartisan members of the Senate worked together to include the "Women's Preventive Health Amendment," which will ensure that health plans are required to cover preventive services specifically recommended for women's health. As you know, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) was charged with making evidence-based recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with respect to these women's preventive health care services.
We write today to affirm our strong support for the recommendations made by the IOM. Further, we urge you to accept these recommendations in a timely manner in order to ensure our nation's women are able to access these life-saving health care screenings and services as quickly as possible. Providing preventive health care services such as gestational diabetes screening, HIV and sexually transmitted infection testing and counseling, and access to a full range of contraceptive methods has been shown to improve women's health outcomes and reduce the overall cost of their health care. Additionally, services such as lactation support and screening and counseling for domestic violence can improve the lives of children and families as well as women.
Access to preventive health care is essential for improving the health of our nation and bringing our health care costs back under control. If fully adopted, the IOM's recommendations will not only improve the availability and accessibility of women's health services, but they will also represent an important step toward a healthier and more fiscally responsible future.